First-place Sycamores decisively topple Flames 88-73

Feb. 24—With 7:10 left, Indiana State men's basketball's Robbie Avila converted his third and-one Saturday night to push the lead to 18 points.

Over the next 1 1/2 minutes, Illinois-Chicago sliced the deficit in half, capped by senior Marquise Kennedy's jumper.

Then Avila was fouled on the outside with his back to the basket and he hit two bonus free throws.

With 4:32 left, sophomore Ryan Conwell drilled a left-corner 3-point goal to stave off the Flames in an 88-73 win with 8,061 fans at Hulman Center.

This shot was one of ISU's final three buckets in the final seven minutes and the Flames answered with a triple.

Junior Julian Larry hit two shots at the charity stripe.

He proceeded to ink the exclamation point on the game with a one-handed flush through traffic as he picked up steam from dribbling the ball on the left near the timeline in a halfcourt set.

Larry put on a passing and decision-making clinic with 15 points and 10 assists.

"I'm proud of our overall effort from the whole game," Larry said. "We haven't seen that in about a week-and-a-half."

It was one of a myriad of occasions when Larry couldn't be stonewalled getting downhill against the league's fiercest shot-blocking crew.

Less than eight minutes in, he accelerated to the right side of the rim and elevated two layins.

The game was laden with savvy moves from the veteran.

In the first half, he missed on a solid look from 3 on the right. After an offensive board, a reset and ball movement put him in position for an even better look at the identical spot.

He opted to use his quickness to get into the heart of the defense. With a handle around his back, he dribbled below the basket and as he was circling out to the other side, jumped and shoveled a no-look pass to Xavier Bledson for a layup.

There was no indecision here and most of the night for a Sycamore squad that constantly pushed the tempo.

Conwell did his damage early to galvanize ISU, with 13 of his 18 points coming in the first half.

He had his second board of the closing half, with 17:34 left, to amass a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. He finished with 12 rebounds.

With 11:52 left in the first half, Conwell spun to the left side and attempted a short shot, UIC's Toby Okani got a palm on it as he was going up, Conwell got this board and kicked to junior Jayson Kent, who buried nearly a 23-foot trey on the left side for a 17-11 lead.

UIC (11-18 overall, 4-14 Missouri Valley Conference) had no retort to Avila in the post. He had 22 points on 6-for-10 shooting in less than 25 minutes of action. He was the catalyst for scoring around the rim as ISU enjoyed a 42-26 scoring advantage there.

In slightly less than 38 minutes, Kent had 16 points and eight rebounds.

ISU almost led from horn to horn, with the Flames going up for just 15 seconds.

ISU (24-5, 15-3) surpassed last year's victory total of 23 games. Last year's squad won 13 games in Valley play.

The Sycamores also jumped ahead of Drake by one game in the battle for first place in the MVC standings after the Bulldogs lost at Northern Iowa earlier Saturday.

Indiana State can clinch the school's third MVC regular-season title with two more wins.

ISU will visit Evansville for an 8 p.m. EST matchup Wednesday, while Illinois-Chicago (11-18, 4-14) will host Drake that same night.