First-place Indiana State lays hammer down on Valpo, wins 101-61

Feb. 7—Indiana State men's basketball surrendered easy looks against Valparaiso's pick-and-roll early on.

It allowed the Beacons to stick around before the Sycamores' fast rate of play blew the lid off in a 101-61 hammering Wednesday night in Missouri Valley Conference play at Hulman Center before a crowd of 5,716 spectators.

After making hay beyond the arc Saturday against Drake, sophomore big man Robbie Avila was virtually uncontainable backing down defenders on the low block. He went 10 of 12 from the floor for a career-high-tying 27 points and eight rebounds.

He took advantage of mismatches on switches and used his methodical pace and his body control to move his defender underneath for finishes.

The Sycamores (21-3, 12-1) allowed Valpo to shoot 41% from the floor and had several baskets from point-blank range.

ISU had a slip up that led to a wide-open layup as one Sycamore guard called for a switch off the ball to get off a big but his teammate didn't hear him.

"Our defensive breakdowns early were just from communication," junior guard Julian Larry said. "We weren't talking to each other. That's why guys got loose and had advantages because we weren't talking. The 1/2 second you are not there, you are late, and now you are chasing."

Senior Xavier Bledson came in less than six minutes in to help provide interior defense, he did just that and immediately drilled a 3 from the top of the arc for a 17-7 lead.

Bledson had 10 points and seven rebounds in a little less than 15 minutes.

Coach Josh Schertz said Bledson utilized as a small-ball five, like he has been several times this season, helped ISU stay in front of Valpo and switch on screens.

"To me, their transition and your ball-screen defense against Valpo [are] the two biggest things," Schertz said.

"They play fast. You [have] got to be able to get back and get matched. They hurt you in transition. And they are really gifted off-the-ball screens. They [were] hard because you got Stafford, and [guard Darius] DeAveiro, and [guard Jahari] Williamson, all these guys who can shoot coming off [screens]. They can score at all three levels, and then the bigs, particularly [forward Kaspar] Sepp, and [forward Cooper] Schwieger can step behind and shoot. They really put you in a quandary.

"I thought we did a nice job of everything we did in the first half and the whole game was to limit Schwieger's open 3s. We were able to take him off the 3-point line, he was 0 for 5."

Junior Isaiah Stafford, who came in averaging 17.4 points, was held scoreless across 25 minutes and missed eight shots.

Stafford has lit up opposing gyms against stout competition. He dropped 32 points at Drake and went for 30 at No. 10/12-ranked Illinois.

Junior Julian Larry sustained a quick tempo against the Beacons and was able to be a playmaker in the open floor for a game-high nine assists. He's five away from a second straight season above the century mark.

The lead was stretched to 22-7 as Larry picked up his dribble under the basket and was stationary facing the ISU rim at the other end, before kicking the ball on a one-hop to Bledson on the left wing and another triple for a 22-7 edge with 12:30 left.

With 5:38 left, the offense fueled its cushion as sophomore Ryan Conwell hit a teardrop in the lane with 5:38 left in the first half for a 34-18 lead.

ISU was thoroughly in control for the remainder of the game.

Valparaiso (6-18, 2-11) dropped its fifth straight game with coach Roger Powell in his first year at the helm.

ISU is 11-0 at Hulman Center. It shot 61.3% in both halves for a game-best this season. The Sycamores cashed in on 56 points in the paint.

ISU will visit Missouri State on Saturday, while Valparaiso hosts Belmont.

"We definitely know the challenge that we have," Larry said. "Even Robbie was here last year when we played them, so we know the task that we have. But we're just going to celebrate this one right now and get ready for Missouri State tomorrow."