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Salukis hand No. 23 Sycamores back-to-back defeats, despite Avila's career-high 30 points

Feb. 18—In front of a boisterous crowd of 6,019 spectators at Banterra Center, Indiana State men's basketball was undone by late shot-making and free throws by Southern Illinois.

The Sycamores fell 74-69 on Saturday in Missouri Valley Conference play to drop two in a row for the first time during the 2023-24 season.

"Credit them with making some plays, but we gotta be cleaner," ISU coach Josh Schertz said. "We can't afford to have 16 turnovers.

"I can live with today because today we didn't play well enough to win and they played well," he added. "And I can live with that. I can't live with guys not competing, not focused, that stuff. Today was night and day [from Tuesday]."

ISU (22-5 overall, 13-3 MVC) trailed 60-59 after the eighth lead change of the second half when sophomore Ryan Conwell hoisted a right-wing 3 that junior Troy D'Amico blocked and then threw off Conwell over the sideline for SIU's ball.

On the opposite end, D'Amico drilled a 3 from the right for a potential six-point swing.

After Indiana State junior Isaiah Swope hit two free throws, sophomore Robbie Avila — who finished with a career-high 30 points — set a pick and popped for a triple to go up 67-65.

The lead traded hands three more times and ISU senior Xavier Johnson scored on a drive with 53 seconds left for a one-point edge.

Conwell's reverse layup on the ensuing possession had backspin on the heel of the rim and settled on top of it completely still for a jump ball. Then, with 22 seconds left, Swope's step-back 3 from the left didn't drop.

D'Amico made two more free throws to make it a three-point game, when Swope tried to get a quick two but saw his finger roll rejected by forward Jarrett Hensley and SIU got the ball.

Johnson made two more free throws to ice the game.

"I think everybody believed that we were going to win, the whole game," D'Amico said. "The first half down by [13 points], I think everybody still had belief, still thought we were going to win. That's the most important thing. We stay connected, we stayed together. That's why we got the job done."

Junior Julian Larry led the squad with five assists and fouled out with 1:43 left in the game.

Conwell had 16 points and five rebounds.

Swope matched his season-lows of 2 of 10 shooting and six points. His last field goal came with 12:20 left in the first half. He missed his final six shots.

"You know, we did a pretty good job on those guards in terms of Swope and Conwell, trying to limit some of those 3s," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said. "And then you got to pick your poison a little bit and give up something. They did a good job going high-low and throwing against our switches and giving them some baskets. But I thought we made some big stops on them as well. And I thought our guys really challenged physically down there, in terms of rebounding, and in the post."

Senior Jake Wolfe led the Sycamores with seven rebounds playing in his home state. He logged his best game for ISU with five points and three assists. He filled in with junior Jayson Kent out in concussion protocol from Tuesday's home loss to Illinois State.

"We lose a little bit of the rebounding and his ability to cut," Avila said Kent being out and questionable for Wednesday. "That obviously hurt for us, but the guys that are coming in [Xavier Bledson, Jake, Aaron Gray] are all going to step in and fill those roles just as fine as they can."

ISU led for the entire first half as it got off to an ideal start on the road with enhanced vigor.

"We came out with better energy," Avila said.

Johnson, one of the top scorers in the Valley, was held to 10 points in the first half before scoring five quick points to open the first two minutes of the closing half to cut it to 42-36.

He finished with 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting, including 1 of 8 from deep.

The Salukis (17-10, 9-7) took their first advantage with 14:23 left on guard AJ Ferguson's look inside.

Then he followed it up with a steal and breakaway flush that made Banterra Center erupt with a three-point lead.

SIU (17-10, 9-7) took care of the basketball with just seven miscues, while ISU had 16. That led to 14 Southern Illinois points off turnovers.

"The finality to the game isn't just within the last five minutes," Avila said. "It happened throughout the entire game. We couldn't take care of the ball, [16] turnovers, when you are giving a team [nine] extra shots it's really hard to beat them, especially at their place."

Indiana State travels to Valparaiso on Wednesday, while SIU hosts Murray State.