Feb. 3—With Tucker DeVries scoring at will for much of the game, Indiana State men's basketball needed stops and shots to fall in the waning minutes.
For the second time at home against the Missouri Valley Conference elite, the Sycamores came through.
They secured a second program-boosting victory on back-to-back Saturdays, 75-67 over Drake in front of 8,332 fans at Hulman Center.
"Out of the 20 wins so far, that's my favorite," ISU coach Josh Schertz said. "Because we had to win on a night where we couldn't make shots. We were 7 for 30, a season-low in made 3s, a season-low in percentage, couldn't make free throws [18 of 24], missed some dunks, missed some layups. It just felt like we had to win that game on our grit and our toughness and get it out of the mud. And I love those kind of games."
The Sycamores (20-3 overall, 11-1 MVC) were 1 for 14 from the floor for eight minutes from the 9:34 mark leading up to nearly the final 1 1/2 minutes.
With 1:33 left and ISU clinging to a 65-64 lead, ISU found a seam.
On a night where the Sycamores shot a season-worst 23% from long range and Drake (18-5, 9-3) cluttered the floor to disrupt ISU's halfcourt sets, particularly ISU's backdoor cuts.
ISU came into the game shooting 40% from behind the arc to lead college basketball in America.
Sophomores Robbie Avila and Ryan Conwell synced up in crunch time.
From the top of the key, Avila fed Conwell, who slipped through to the goal for a layup. Conwell led ISU with 21 points and made 10 of 10 free throws to go with seven rebounds and three assists.
The assist was Avila's fourth of the game to lead all players. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double.
After Drake guard Kevin Overton tied the game at 67 with 1:08 left on a 3, the Sycamores went back to a staple in this tilt.
Conwell worked a pick-and-roll with Avila on the left wing and after coming off the ball screen going toward the corner, he flung a pass back over his right shoulder to Avila, who had popped outside several times and buried the triple.
"I'm just flowing within the offense," Avila said. "Anybody in our team I trust them, they trust me to make the right play. That's what it came down to. Ryan came off the screen, drew two [defenders] and kicked it out to me and he trusted me to hit that shot. That's what I did. I think everybody's belief in each other is why this team is so special."
That's when the ISU defense went back to the well making it hard for Drake to record buckets.
Junior Jayson Kent made the biggest stand. With 34 seconds left, he swatted DeVries and Conwell recovered the loose ball in the right corner. DeVries finished with 26 points but couldn't score on this crucial exchange.
"We had a number of guys who stepped up and made big plays down the stretch," Schertz said. "I told Jayson Kent I'm so proud of him, it's his birthday, on a night where he missed some free throws and he [missed] a dunk and a layup late and he could hang his head and then he gets the biggest stop down there."
Kent added a career-high 20 boards to tie for eighth with a single-game effort on the boards.
The Sycamores posted a comeback after trailing 60-57 following a bucket from an old-fashioned three-point play by guard Conor Enright as he was fouled fading to the corner from just outside the lane.
Avila blocked a shot earlier with 4:19 left by forward Darnell Brodie from point-blank range for another crucial stop inside and a stop that led to open floor action was seamless all night for ISU.
Conwell gathered it was inhibited trying to get downhill in the open floor, resulting in two free throws and a 63-60 edge.
With 3:44 left, Avila saddled Brodie to the bench with his fifth personal by drawing a foul in the paint in a matchup of two of the better bigs in the Valley.
Brodie had tougher sledding scoring in the lane from the first matchup Jan. 10 when he dropped 15 points. He had eight points Saturday.
The Sycamores came out with adrenaline, feeding off their second straight sellout crowd storming out to a 24-7 margin on the inside basket by Kent. They kept getting into the painted area and led 18-0 in field goals there for a 30-17 lead. ISU finished with a 36-24 edge in that category.
Avila notched an and-one over guard Kyron Gibson to patch up the bleeding to go up to make it 33-36.
It was another case of ISU finding a way to weather offensive lulls as it missed six straight shots over 4:40, before Avila squashed a 9-0 DU run.
Junior Julian Larry had 16 points and three steals as a key contributor both ways.
ISU, which hasn't won the regular-season Valley championship, has built at least a two-game lead in the league with eight games left, on Drake and Bradley.
"It's an amazing feeling," Avila said. "It's a huge win for us. It sets us two games ahead of everybody in the Valley. It was definitely a big win for us."