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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 03 Drake at Indiana State

Source: Icon Sportswire / Getty

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — It was exactly the brand of basketball these Indiana State Sycamores are used to playing. The Trees refused to back down despite everything the Cincinnati Bearcats threw at them.

Thanks to yet another second-half comeback, ISU was able to outwit the Bearcats in the final minutes of their NIT quarterfinal match-up on Tuesday in an 85-81 victory.

“We knew going in they were one of the best defenses in the country. I think they were like 15th,” said head coach Josh Schertz. “Our guys, the way they moved the ball, the way they shared it. Some extraordinary efforts were required for this game and that’s what he got, extraordinary efforts.”

The Sycamores knew right away that Cincinnati had done their homework on them. The game’s opening stanza set the tone for how it would be for the first thirty game minutes.

Indiana State let Cincy jump out to as much as an eight-point lead in the first half. The pure shooting of Jizzle James, the son of former Colts running back Edgerrin James, is what kept the Bearcats out in front.

What added to the fray for ISU was Cincinnati’s length. They forced several empty possessions from the Sycamores and made it extremely difficult to be the passing, silky, and smooth offense that ISU is used to being.

But with all that, Indiana State only had four turnovers in the first half and went into the half only down four 36-32.

“We were dying a little too much on the ball screens in the first half,” Schertz said. “We tried to get a little more aggressive on the basketball, and contest passes. We are not big, especially compared to Cincinnati. In the second half, we did a much better job of disrupting what they wanted to do.”

Simas Lukosius, formerly of Butler, is who carried the load for UC in the second half. He hit six of the 14 3-point shots he attempted during the game and led the Bearcats in scoring with 26 points.

Still, Indiana State, refusing to back down from the UC pressure, stuck with them and found their chance to take the lead.

After Lucksius hit a three with 13:10 left in the game to give Cincy a 56-50 lead. Ryan Conwell answered on the other end with a three of his own. A defensive stop led to another three for the Sycamores. This time from the hands of Jayson Kent.

Just like that it was a tie game, 56-56, with 11:57 left.

John Newman II came back with a three to get the lead back for UC immediately after, only for ISU’s sensational player Robbie Avila to hit one just back to tie it up again at 59-59.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Avila said. “We made our runs, but that doesn’t mean the game is over then and there. We kept our calm and just made play after play.”

The plays kept coming for the Trees. With 8:27 left to play a thunderous dunk from Kent that drove the ISU faithful mad inside the sold-out Hulman Center sparked a 10-0 run that gave Indiana State a 74-65 lead. A lead they would never relinquish.

It was not without the best efforts of UC who clawed back to tie the game against a 77-77 with 1:17 left. In came Avila again to hit a three that literally blew the roof off the Hulman Center. Subsequent late-game chess in the final minute took some maneuvering for the Trees, but when the final horn sounded, Indiana State emerged victorious 85-81.

Schertz said it was quite the environment to close out ISU’s home slate for the season on with a sold-out crowd of over 9,000 people watching the game unfold.

“It’s been like this all season. I don’t want people to think this was an anomaly,” he said. “It’s been that pack all this year. One of the best environments in college basketball.”

Four of Indiana State’s five starters scored in double-figures. Avila led the way with 22 points. He also led the Trees in assists again with six. Ryan Conwell added 18 points and Jayson Kent was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and 4-for-4 at the foul line to bring home 16 points.

The Sycamores have punched their ticket to Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the NIT Semifinals where they will meet either Utah or VCU on April 2nd. Those two will face each other tonight.