Sweet semis: Sycamores slug through tourney opener against Bears

Mar. 8—Ryan Conwell very well maybe Indiana State men's basketball's MVP — most valuable piece.

In a 75-59 victory over Missouri State in its Missouri Valley Conference "Arch Madness" tourney appetizer, sophomore 6-foot-4 guard Ryan Conwell stood on business with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Conwell has been in stellar form coming into the most vital leg of the season.

He's logged heavy minutes, along with the rest of the starters, despite averaging 32.9 minutes the lefty from Indianapolis is showing out like he's caught a second wind.

On Friday afternoon inside Enterprise Center he was a centerpiece on both ends and brushing off hordes of Bears rushing to the offensive glass. Even when he secured the carom, he had to brush off larger players, who at points were hanging on his arm as he look for an outlet pass.

The Sycamores had to scrap in the most of the first half. And at the other rim, Conwell and his backcourt teammates were able to float shots from in close over the athletic, long MSU frontline players.

The Bears have size and strength that is in stark contrast to the rest of the Valley.

"I told the guys coming in that it was going to be a street fight and that's what it was," ISU coach Josh Schertz said.

"They are so big and so physical. We talked about before the game, if we didn't win, it was going to be because we didn't match the physicality."

The Sycamores (27-5) handled to test with aplomb spearheaded by Conwell and company to book their first back-to-back semifinal since the program last advanced this far in two straight postseasons in 2000 and 2001.

ISU will face Northern Iowa at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Enterprise Center.

ISU avoided a pitfall in the closing half to make sure the second half was a noncontest.

The Sycamores didn't squander a double-digit margin like they had with less than six minutes left in the first half when the Bears got within two on a 10-0 spurt.

Indiana State increased its advantage to 11 early with sophomore Robbie Avila's bucket off a feed from senior Xavier Bledson with 14:56 left.

Bledson finished with seven points and four assists off the bench. He along with senior reserve Jake Wolfe played together late at the five and four in an anomaly to close out the game.

After MSU guard Chance Moore buried a triple, Schertz was on the court two seconds later with a timeout to squash any notion of ISU squandering another lead.

It paid dividends.

The Bears didn't record a field goal for more than three minutes and Avila went to work in the low post to secure progression to Saturday.

Junior Julian Larry shared the wealth in the first half to the tune of six assists and then attacked by sinking a pair of 3s and an and-one.

With 11:54 left, he found his big man, Avila, with a simple short, low-arched lob from the right for a 54-46 edge. Avila scored again and the trio of starting guards attacked the rim to salt it away.

A pesky Bears squad sent numbers to the offensive backboard and it correlated in eight offensive rebounds in the opening half — a dozen for the game — then even contested the Sycamores seconds after they had reeled in the carom.

Indiana State junior Jayson Kent had 12 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double.

It worked early on, but as the Sycamores settled in following their Day 1 bye for the opening game Friday.

Eight seconds into their Arch Madness, they had an unforced miscue in the left corner. And then two minutes passed before Kent flashed through the lane on a cut for the team's initial score.

The Bears were able to hang with ISU in a clunky first half. An open 3-pointer at the horn from Matthew Lee didn't draw iron that would have tied the game at 34.