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Rarefied Air: Indiana State nearly closes NIT with crown

Apr. 4—With 3:03 left in the game, junior Isaiah Swope pulled up, in rhythm from the left wing, to push Indiana State's lead to seven points.

Seton Hall men's basketball didn't let up, recording offensive rebounds on its next three misses.

The first resulted in a basket down low and then Al-Amir Dawes scored from the charity stripe and hit a fadeaway 3-pointer to knot the game.

Junior Julian Larry missed 3 from the left side and junior Jayson Kent couldn't stick back his lefty attempt.

The Pirate completed the comeback on a 9-0 spurt as Indianapolis hometown product Dre Davis spun in the lane and finished with 16 seconds left for the game-winning bucket in the NIT championship.

ISU lost 79-77 when Swope lost the ball going up on his first try from the left of the circle and then had his second attempt swatted.

Sophomore Ryan Conwell had a deep 3 that was short off the left side of the iron to thwart ISU's hopes.

The Pirates got 63 points from a trio of Davis, a forward, guard Kadary Richmond and Dawes, a guard.

This sour ending to a record-breaking season had close calls of winning the Missouri Valley Conference tourney, an 84-80 loss to Drake. ISU was one of the first four teams not picked for the NCAA tourney.

"Life is not always fair," ISU coach Josh Schertz said. "You don't always get what you deserve. That's a hard lesson of life sometimes. You deserve something and it doesn't happen for you. The key is not to allow setbacks [to keep you from] opening up your heart again. Just because you go for something and you get your heart broken and it doesn't work, [it] doesn't mean that you don't try again."

The bitter ending to a fairytale season resulted in ISU winning its most games in a campaign since 1979 and the program's first MVC regular-season crown since 2000 — it was the school's third.

ISU made the most 3s in Division I this season with 427 of 1,119 for a clip of 38%.

A heavy-partisan ISU sellout crowd, the second time in as many games at Hinkle Fieldhouse within three days, anticipated a tourney crown beginning with 4:15 left.

Larry couldn't finish at the rim, but sophomore Robbie Avila secured the offensive rebound and waited on the timing of Kent's penetrating cut and all-NIT performer's glancing bounce pass resulted in an acrobatic layin.

Thirty seconds later, Conwell picked a big moment to secure his opening bucket with a 27-footer from the left wing ... on his ninth look of the game.

The all-NIT selection recorded 12 rebounds and three assists as he helped ISU (32-7) go toe-to-toe with a physical Seton Hall (25-12).

Sixth-year senior Xavier Bledson balled out on the biggest stage of his career with an NIT crown on the line against Big East competition. In the former Lincoln Memorial player's "Swan Song" with eight points and four assists, all of which linked up with Larry.

It was Bledson's fundamentals and finesse, particularly his playmaking from the post and footwork down low, that were a revelation for ISU against the Pirates.

With 8:38 left, Bledson, who converted an and-one in the paint on the prior trip, flung a one-handed pass from the left side as he backed down an interior defender to Larry in the right corner for a spot-up triple.

Swope, who had 16 of 19 points in the closing half, had a retort by slashing to the tin on a trio of occasions for baskets during a stint of 2:16 early in the second half.

Following an Avila 3 from the right wing, Hinkle Fieldhouse exploded in applause, Swope scored the next basket with a floater in the lane.

Larry stood out in the game with his clinical hesitation to attack the goal and perpetual pulse on the flow. It was incumbent for ISU in the first half when the team had 10 miscues.

The side was out of sorts from Seton Hall's energy on the perimeter as they didn't give ISU room on the catch on the wings and atop the arc.

ISU started to thwart the physicality and pestering by running, which was galvanized by Larry in the final three minutes of the half with ISU trailing 39-29.

Larry got out on the break and hit Beldson with a quick feed to the low post. He kicked it back out to Larry on the right wing. With ISU playing 5-on-4 as Dre Davis was late getting back on defense, Larry canned the jumper.

In the final 2:37 of the half, Larry hit another triple from the opposite wing after a cross-court feed from Bledson.

In the final minute of the first half, Larry functioned as a playmaker, looping a pass over the top to Avila for a layup on the left side.

Larry finished with 18 points and six assists.

With 21 seconds left in the period, Bledson served up a three-quarters court dime to Larry for a scoop-and-score at the rim

In a cyclical game where teams traded turns making headway, the quick-hitting Pirates jumped out to a nine-point edge early in the second half.

"We always talk about what is the chase building in you?" Schertz said. "You are chasing these things. And it's really you get it or you don't. What is the chase building inside of you? In these guys, it built resilience and toughness. It builds an ability to be willingly and gladly a part of something bigger than yourself.

"For me, I'm inspired by their resilience, their fortitude. I'm inspired by the way they handle success. I'm inspired by the way that they sacrifice and give up for each other. I'm inspired by the kind of teammates and human beings they are. I'm better as a man for having been a part of this team and this journey."