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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 03 Drake at Indiana State

Source: Icon Sportswire / Getty

ST. LOUIS — All five starters scored in double figures. Each of their first two games went off without a hitch. But nothing could have prepared the Indiana State Sycamores for what happened in the final game of Arch Madness on Sunday.

Despite a miraculous comeback… a comeback many can only dream of happening, the Sycamores came up on the short end of an 84-80 game in which the Drake Bulldogs simply had everything go right for it.

“Incredibly proud of our guys,” said head coach Josh Schertz. “The metal they showed, the toughness, the resilience they showed down 18. We managed to dig our heels in and took the lead. We had a breakdown defensively and lost vision. Too many mistakes for us against a good team.”

The game started slow and sloppy for both squads; both of them not scoring for the game’s first two minutes. Hanging tough with each other four minutes into the game, the Bulldogs began to heat up off the sure hands of Tucker DeVries and Connor Enright.

A pair of three-pointers from both set off what would be an 11-0 run to give Drake the separation from ISU they would enjoy for the bulk of the game. The Bulldogs, who were second all season long in 3-point shooting percentage only to ISU, made each of their first seven 3-point shots.

Indiana State on the other hand, who leads the nation in 3-pt attempts and ranked among the top five in 3-pt shots made, struggled in that regard making just three of the 12 deep shots they put up.

Not even stellar play from Jayson Kent would be able to keep the Trees close. Kent would end the night leading ISU with 22 points. Robbie Avila, Indiana State’s best player this season, was virtually held in check to that point as well.

The Sycamores were in trouble entering the locker room at halftime down 47-32, the largest halftime deficit they faced all season.

“We were playing hard, we just weren’t playing with any intelligence,” Schertz said. “We missed some switches, we missed coverages, had some breakdowns in transition. You’re not going to play perfect. That’s impossible. But there is this imaginary line you’re supposed to hit. This was a high line tonight.”

Things didn’t get much better in the second half as Drake, much to their credit, continued to make what can only be described as otherworldly shots from DeVries and Enright, along with help from their Seton Hall transfer big man Darnell Brodie.

Hope seemed bleak for the Sycamores entering the last ten minutes down 18 points 67-49. But then, lightning struck in the form of Isaiah Swope. 

A transfer to Indiana State from Southern Indiana during the off-season, Swope has been a mainstay in the starting line-up all season. He was held to zero first-half points. He embarked on a run in which he scored 14 of the Trees’ next 24 points leading them on a magical comeback in which ISU got the lead 73-72 with 4:08 left in the ball game.

That comeback included an ungodly 3-point basket in which Swope threw it up, hit the shot, and drew the foul with it. The go-ahead point was secured in the subsequent free throw.

But, Darnell Brodie stifled the comeback hitting two free throws of his own on the next trip down the floor. That was followed up by some costly empty possessions by the Trees and a dagger of a 3-pointer from Enright for Drake.

Unable to make up the difference with the time they had, Drake was able to negate the sensational comeback to win their second MVC Tournament title in a row, securing a spot with the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

What’s Next?

The loss leaves some uncomfortable uncertainty for Indiana State. The Sycamores are now 28-6 on the season and will assuredly play more games this season. The question is: In which tournament?

The problem Indiana State faces, as do all mid-major teams, is their resume. Despite winning 28 games, some prognosticators may say the Sycamores’ “strength of schedule” or “net ranking” or what-have-you, may not be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.

Lacking sufficient Quad-1 wins (2), Indiana State, at best, is a fringe team on the bubble to get in with their loss to Drake, even with a net ranking of 26th before Sunday’s game. The Bulldogs would without question be in the same boat if Indiana State had won.

Indiana State is also 5-0 in Quad-2 games, but they are 6-1 in Quad-3 and 14-1 in Quad-4, their loss to Illinois State (Q-4) in the regular season still looming large over the heads of the Trees.

In the eyes of this reporter, it should be incredibly hard to leave a team that has won 28 games and won its conference’s regular season time out of the Big Dance. Coach Schertz would tend to agree.

“28 wins, regular season champs of the ninth-ranked league in the country, played every one of our Quad-1 games away from home, only lost three games all year when we were at full strength,” Schertz said of his pitch to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. “I think we’ve proven in this tournament that we are good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament.”

“I know things are getting skewed towards the ‘Power-5’s’ and everything,” he continued. “But, that is the romanticism of the tournament, right? It’s been the mid-majors and high-majors competing. March Madness is not one Power-5 upsetting another Power-5, it’s always been the underdogs having a chance to make a run. All our metrics line up. It would be a shame to put someone in who’s 18-15.”

For now, all the Sycamores can do is sit, wait, and watch as their fate is no longer in their control. It now rests in the hands of the group of people who will gather in a week’s time at the NCAA Headquarters along Washington Street in Indianapolis.

The whole of Terre Haute, and undoubtedly the whole state of Indiana, will be watching in earnest next Sunday when the Selection Committee makes their decision on who’s in…….. and who’s out.