Second-half rally propels Indiana State to NIT semis

Mar. 26—Sophomore Robbie Avila hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key with 59.7 seconds left to break a deadlock after Isaiah Swope's finger-roll layin was long and Julian Larry misfired on a wide-open right-wing triple that Ryan Conwell tracked down.

After a flurry of activity at both ends of Hulman Center on Tuesday night, Indiana State emerged with an 85-81 victory over Cincinnati that propels the Sycamores into the Men's National Invitation Tournament semifinals next Tuesday at Indianapolis' Hinkle Fieldhouse.

With 36.3 seconds to go, Conwell was whistled for a foul on Cincinnati center Aziz Bandaogo near midcourt after a UC offensive board.

He missed the front end of a one-and-one and Conwell gathered the loose carom in the right corner.

Jayson Kent gathered one more rebound along the baseline and hit two free throws before forward Simas Lukosius banked in a 3. He led all scorers with 26 points.

Swope split foul shots, then ISU's Xavier Bledson iced the trip to Indianapolis with two charity-stripe shots with three seconds remaining.

Avila had 22 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Conwell excelled again with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists and Kent added 16 points and seven rebounds.

Through the first three quarters, ISU led for a grand total of 126 seconds.

But the Trees maintained arms-length distance and rallied by pushing the tempo in transition and being decisive in outlet passes for a closing-half comeback.

On Tuesday, the Sycamores (31-6) booked passage to the NIT semifinals after a third straight win at Hulman Center. ISU will play the winner of VCU-Utah, who square off Wednesday, on April 2 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus.

With 14 points on the break in the final 20 minutes, ISU wheeled-and-dealed crucial baskets to catch Cincinnati.

UC didn't extend the lead by more than seven until going up 48-40 on a layup by UC guard Dan Skillings and he had another before ISU rallied.

First, Swope drained a 3. Then Avila scored down low.

The Sycamores deadlocked the game on a shot from long range by Kent to the right of the circle at 56-all with 11:56 left, on a find from Avila.

Then, 39 seconds later, the Sycamores knotted the game at 59, as Conwell set the table for Avila on by flashing a pass backward to him on the right wing for a trey. It was the team's 400th 3 of the year.

With 9:44 left, Swope cashed in a long-range jumper from the left side for a 64-63 edge for the side's first lead since

Larry, who got to the rim for the opening two buckets in the first 51 seconds of the game, didn't pay dirt again until with 8:01 left.

Bledson put the ball on a platter with a diagonal pass from the left sideline in the backcourt to the streaking guard from Frisco, Texas, on the right side of the rim for an and-one layin.

The timely finish, combined with a flush by Kent on the previous trip, made it 69-65 Trees.

Bledson sank a triple from the left corner that brought most of Hulman Center to their feet and beaming, while UC coach Wes Miller was screaming at the official at midcourt and given a technical foul.

The Sycamores created a 74-65 margin with 7:17 to go after Conwell hit two free throws.

In the opening nearly nine minutes, Indiana State's motion offense had mixed reviews.

Conwell split a double team to get downhill but his finger-roll slipped off the tin.

There were multiple occasions where a bounce pass from the perimeter to a backdoor cutter was kicked by the Bearcats (22-15) to thwart a potential high-percentage look.

Bledson made a rapid impact off the bench as a playmaker as he squeezed the ball inside to Kent moving to the goal for a layin.

Freshman Derek Vorst knocked down a 3 at the top of the key after Conwell laid it back to him. It was Vorst's first one since Nov. 21 against Rice at the Ball Dawgs Classic.

UC Freshman Jizzle James, son of former Indianapolis Colts star running back Edgerrin James, picked up where he left off in the first half with an open floater in the lane to reach 15 points. He finished with 21.