NIT NOTEBOOK: Pirates' coach impressed by Sycamores, fans

Apr. 3—Indiana State and its fans impressed Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway with the Sycamores' 100-90 victory over Utah in the first National Invitation Tournament semifinal game Tuesday in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

A capacity crowd of almost all-ISU fans cheered the Sycamores loudly.

Now, the New Jersey-based Big East Conference Pirates (24-12) will play ISU for the NIT championship at 7 p.m. Thursday in Hinkle. The two programs have never collided on the basketball court, but Indiana State (32-6) and Seton Hall share a commonality. Both were among the first four teams left out of the NCAA's 68-team field this March. Both teams ended up as 1-seeds in their separate brackets of the 32-team NIT.

The Sycamores and Pirates are two of six teams still alive in postseason April college hoops, along with the NCAA Final Four teams of Purdue, UConn, North Carolina State and Alabama.

"I think it's a lot to say about both teams, the coaches and the players and the character and culture of what both teams are trying to build," Holloway said after his Pirates overwhelmed Georgia 84-67 in Tuesday's second NIT semifinal.

"I don't know their coach [Josh Schertz], but he does a great job," Holloway said. "[Their] team plays really hard and good stuff. They played well in this tournament. I was in my locker room when they came out. I heard how they were celebrating and how they happy to be here. So that says a lot about their program and their coach."

He also heard the ISU fans.

"I thought it was good," Holloway said of the noisy sea of blue in Hinkle. "They came out supporting their home team. You know, it's good. I'm happy that there's a crowd and there's going to be a crowd on Thursday. These guys get a chance to play in front of a big crowd."

Holloway called Thursday's NIT Finals matchup "a home game for [the Sycamores]."

—Months of preparation — ISU 6-foot-10 big man Robbie Avila and 6-8 forward-guard Jayson Kent, as well as sixth man Xavier Bledson and reserve center Derek Vorst, coped with Utah's dual 7-footer centers Branden Carlson and Lawson Lovering in Tuesday's game.

Avila finished with 10 rebounds, as well as 26 points. Kent had six rebounds, as did guards Isaiah Swope and Ryan Conwell. Carlson and Lovering combined for seven rebounds, and Utah's board leader was actually guard Deivon Smith with seven. The Sycamores outrebounded Utah 35-29.

"It's a physical game especially at this level," Avila said. "You've got both of their big guys are 7 feet tall, real strong dudes. So you've just got to be able to step up to the challenge. It starts in the summer when you're putting in the work in the weight room.

"And so it's just something I'm trying to develop my game still," Avila added. "Obviously I'm not there yet, but [I've got to] just continue to get better [at] dealing with physical guys like that. You've got to be ready."

Seton Hall is 20-6 in games it has outrebounded opponents.

—30 wins not uncommon for Schertz — The topic of ISU clearing the 30-victory plateau (just the second time in program history after Larry Bird and Co. won 33 in the 1978-79 season). Schertz pointed out that he's been there before, quite often actually in his prior years as head coach at NCAA Division II Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee.

Unselfish play and teamwork are a common thread for those squads, he said.

"It's funny, we've won 32 games, and I think in the last — this is maybe the sixth time in the last 10 years I've been a part of a team that's won 30 games," Schertz said. "Those character traits are hallmarks of those teams. Some have them more than others."

His first two ISU teams won 11 and 23 games. In his final seven seasons at LMU, the Railsplitters had records of 30-3, 34-3, 30-6, 32-2, 20-9, 32-1 and 19-4. His 13-year record there was 337-69.

This team and the 2016 team I was part of at LMU are the teams that in terms of like absolutely could care less about anything other than each other, winning.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or