Sycamores topple Utes with lion's share of fans in Hinkle

Apr. 2—March is over but for Indiana State, but the clock still hasn't struck midnight.

It's uncharted waters for the program after an unprecedented fourth win in the NIT — a 100-90 decision over Utah.

In the university's first-ever men's basketball victory in April, ISU (32-6) led the Utes (22-15) by five points with eight minutes to play before dusting Utah.

Sophomore guard Ryan Conwell tied his career high with 27 points to lead the Sycamores, while sophomore big man Robbie Avila chipped in with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

ISU got a second-chance 3-pointer that senior Xavier Bledson buried from the left wing, it produced a roar from a sell-crowd engulfed in Blue and White.

Twenty-one seconds later, the loudest bellow of the night might have been when junior Julian Larry caught the ball in the right corner, wide open, as ISU pushed the action.

His triple went down after almost not staying down. There was a half-second groan from the Indiana State faithful before it deflected off the square on the glass and down.

"In transition, I just ran to the corner," Larry said. "It took us a little bit to recognize on makes they were going zone [defense], on misses they were going man.

"It was a miss, so I ran to the corner like it was a zone and actually sprinting to the corner is good in transition. So then I knew once I sprint to the corner and everything filtered out, I [saw] I was open and I knew they were going to find me.

"When I shot it, it felt good and then it rimmed out so then I was like I got it, next play, get back on defense. And then it rimmed in and I turned to my guys [on the bench] and gave them a little look."

ISU led by 11 at this juncture and led by no less than eight points the rest of the tilt.

With the game iced and 15 seconds to go, chants of "ISU, ISU, ISU ..." reverberated through Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Utah used 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones that kept the game close in the opening half, but clinical passing from ISU negated a game that was tied 44-44 at the half.

Utah had two turnovers but was forced into seven miscues in the second half as Larry put pressure on the backcourt and Swope snagged one on the left wing.

Swope had zero points in the first half after misfiring on three shots and rattled off a rapid dozen points in the first nine minutes of the closing half on 5-of-8 shooting.

Swope finished with 15 points and six rebounds.

"It's just a credit to our guards," Avila said. "Those guys can't get their own defensively, especially Swope, [Larry] and [Conwell]. They are hard to go against when they are really locked in. They get steals, [their] ball pressure is insane. When you got those three on the defensive side, it's really hard for teams to run their stuff. I think it allowed us to create turnovers and get some easy buckets."

All five of ISU's steals came in the final 20 minutes, Swope and Larry had two, apiece.

"We had a few different looks we were giving them throughout the game," Larry said. "Once we found the look that worked we sat down and guarded. We had different looks so we changed our stuff up throughout the game.

"We just did a really good job of knuckling down in the second half," he added.

Conwell continues to shoot lights out — 9 of 16 from the field and 4 of 11 from long range in his second game in his home city of Indianapolis this season. His career high was first set with that total against Ball State at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Dec. 16, 2023.

Conwell shouted out assistant coach Alex Peavler for the extra work outside of practice times for helping him lift his shooting splits in the past 12 games.

ISU got off to an ideal shooting entrance to the final week of the season connecting on nine of their first 13 shots.

The team led 17-7.

In the first five minutes, Avila dialed up a 3 from straightaway near the logo, another from behind the top of the arc and from the right wing.

A second-half emergence from junior Isaiah Swope was pivotal against the Utes He drilled two 3s in the first four minutes of the closing half for his opening buckets.

And he tacked on a layin from a backdoor cut 40 seconds later.

With 9:23 left, Swope served up a beautiful bounce pass from the left sideline at midcourt to Larry under the backboard for a layin on the left block.

"You can't teach that stuff," ISU coach Josh Schertz said. "That's innately in them. I think what we do is free them up to make those plays, to feel like they can make those plays. That's what we try to do, give them the freedom to feel like they can attack. [Bledson and Avila] ... Swope to me is not a great passer, but that was a great pass. That was an elite pass. We have guys that are elite passers. [Larry] is developing into one but that play, that pass [from halfcourt], was a remarkably good play by Isaiah."

Larry led the team with eight assists.

Junior Jayson Kent had the ball in the left corner and worked a give-and-go with Bledson in the middle of the lane, who returned a bounce pass to Kent for a flush with 1:11 left. This put the exclamation point on the win.

Thursday at 7 p.m. is the final stage for this mix. They could leave this 32-team NIT field with shiny hardware in April while tying the program record for victories in a season (33 set in 1978-79) at the same time.