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National Invitational Tournament

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INDIANAPOLIS — “To be great at something you have to put your heart and soul into it and when you come up short it’s difficult in that locker room,” said Indiana State head coach Josh Schertz. “Our hearts are broken tonight.”

It was indicative of what seemed to be a typical game inside Hinkle Fieldhouse: a tie game, 60 seconds to play, both teams throwing haymakers at each other while neither refuses to yield.

Indiana State was no stranger to tough situations during this NIT Tournament run, time and again proving the naysayers wrong. Time and again showing that they deserved better than what the optics showed.

In the end, optics mean nothing. In the end, it was two basketball teams, both with a chip on their shoulder duking it out for an NIT Championship. In the end, it would be Seton Hall’s night.

It’s a tired cliche, but the game was quite literally a game of runs. There were five lead changes in the first five minutes as both squads looked to set the tone. Seton Hall, a big physical team out of the Big East led by the likes of Al-Amir Dawes and Indy-native Dre Davis, looked to take no exception to the plight of Indiana State. They came to impose their will in front of the sold-out heavily pro-ISU crowd.

That imposition of will led to Indiana State committing ten turnovers throughout the first half, a very uncharacteristic stat for Indiana State which has prided itself all season as a team that embodies ball control. Ryan Conwell, who had 27 in ISU’s semi-final win over Utah, was held scoreless in the first half and Robbie Avila, a suburb 3-point shooter in his own right, was unable to get any of his usual looks from outside.

By the 4:06 mark of the first half, Seton Hall enjoyed a 14-4 scoring swing and a 36-26 lead and the Sycamores appeared to be stumped.

Enter Julian Larry.

After Dre Davis hit a three pushing the Seton Hall lead to 39-28, sensing the game on the verge of getting out of hand, Larry came up big for the Trees. He hit back-to-back threes to cut the Pirate lead to four. Giving up a quick bucket to Hall’s. Two empty possessions in the final minutes of the half allowed for Avila and Larry to combine for a couple more buckets and tie the game at 39-39, capping off an 11-0 run by ISU going into the half.

As one run ended though, another began. Seton Hall head coach Shaheen Holloway promised adjustments in the second half. Those adjustments led to an 11-3 run giving Seton Hall a 51-42 lead off the surehandedness of Davis, Dawes, and Kadary Richmond.

Keeping with the cliched mantra of the game, ISU ran right back at the Pirates with Isaiah Swope and Avila combining for an 11-2 run back the other way tying the game at 53-53 with 13:09 left to play.

Another run here and another run there eventually had the game at 62-57 with 9:34 left off a Dylan Addae-Wusu lay-up for Hall.

Then came Xavier Bledson, the MVC Sixth Man of the Year who engineered most of an 8-0 run giving ISU a 65-62 lead with the last 8:07 left of the clock.

The pressure mounted and both teams would not yield to the other. But, Seton Hall finally flinched with 5:14 left to play, and the game tied at 69-69. After Jayson Kent willed a lay-up in to reclaim the lead for ISU, Ryan Conwell, who had been 0-for-8 the entire game from behind the arc, finally found the bottom of the net. 74-70 ISU with 3:47 left. Pouring on after that was Swope who drained a three that popped the rivets out of the roof of Hinkle Fieldhouse from the hysteria of the crowd.

With 2:50 left to play, Indiana State was in control: up 77-70.

But, as mentioned before… this was a game of runs.

Seton Hall took advantage of three critical empty possessions in a row from the Sycamores, which led to Al-Amir Dawes, in his final college game, sinking a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:07 to play. Timeout Indiana State.

Out of the time out, the Indy-native Dre Davis made an athletic move underneath the basket and capped off the 9-0 run to give Seton Hall the lead.

The final 20-seconds belonged to Indiana State to either win or tie the game. After a dead ball with 8-seconds left, the inbound came to Swope who mishandled the ball and a wild shot on the recovery went nowhere. The buzzer sounded and the hearts of 8,000-plus Indiana State fans inside Hinkle sank to the floor beneath them. Final score 79-77.

“Life is not always fair. Don’t always get what you want,” Schertz said.

Isaiah Swope, playing with a torn meniscus, led the Sycamores with 19 points. Julian Larry added 18 points. Jayson Kent and Robbie Avila both scratched out 13 points a piece.

“The thing with Isaiah is, that guy is playing with a piece of loose cartilage floating with his knee and a complete tear in his lateral meniscus,” Schertz said. “You know guys are out there skipping bowl games or the NIT, this guy put off surgery to help his team. He can’t really practice, but he is playing through that. We went to him at the end because we believe in his ability to make big shots.”

The championship for Seton Hall is their first NIT Title since winning it back in 1953. For Indiana State, it is an all too familiar feeling of coming so close yet coming up short in the end… just as the coveted 1979 team did in the NCAA Final.

The loss ends what has been Indiana State’s most successful season since that 1979 team. The Trees finished the year 32-7 and as Missouri Valley regular season champions. They were statistically one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and only the third team ever to make over 400 3-point shots in a single season.

For Indiana State fans, who so passionately came back to life this season after so many years of incredulity, this season was special, and needless to say, the fire and love for a once wayward team returned with a fury in Terre Haute these last five months.

March On You Fighting Sycamores!

The post Not Ment To Be: Seton Hall’s Late Run Ends Indiana State’s Magical Season appeared first on WIBC 93.1 FM.

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