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January 24, 2009

Cornley carries Lions to 63-59 win

For the first 34 minutes of Saturday night's game, the Penn State men's basketball team looked stoic, lethargic, lackadaisical, and frankly, dead in the water.

The last game before a one-week bye, the Nittany Lions seemed to have mentally packed it in, already having posted 15 wins on the season, and played like it. Iowa's scrappy 54-41 lead with 5:51 to play proved as much.

Unfortunately for the visiting Hawkeyes, Penn State senior forward Jamelle Cornley refused to lie down quietly.

Scoring 24 points, grabbing six rebounds and making an endless amount of key plays, Cornley helped to turn the Lions around for a 63-59 win in front of 12,210 thrilled fans at the Bryce Jordan Center.

"Jamelle Cornley. He thinks I'm joking but he knows it was him," sophomore guard Talor Battle said when asked how the Lions were able to avoid stumbling at home. "He just showed his senior leadership, his great effort. He got us back into the game. Deflected basketballs, scored when we needed him to score, offensive rebounds.

"Everybody else really worked hard but he kind of just put us on his back and carried us."

The victory gives the Nittany Lions (16-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten): their most wins under head coach Ed DeChellis in his six-year tenure, and their first three-game Big Ten winning streak since the 2001 season, all in front of the second-largest home crowd at the BJC in the past seven seasons.

Around the 10 minute mark of the second half, it actually appeared that Cornley would turn out to be the scapegoat for killing the Lions' comeback chances.

Sparked by a 5-0 run to help shave down a 14-point deficit, Cornley was assessed a technical foul for 'talking a little too much' following a crucial out of bounds call giving the Hawkeyes (12-8, 2-5) possession.

"I think that it was a mistake on my behalf," Cornley smirked after the game. "I didn't say anything derogatory. I thought it should have went the other way and (official Ed) Hightower said, 'Just watch it.'

"I said, Yes sir, I'm going to make sure that I continue to do my job and you do yours...

"Boom. That is my fault. That is a senior mistake and it will not happen again.

"That's what sparked me. That's when I said, OK, if you want to give me a technical foul, I'm going to make sure my troops - everybody in this building - knows that we're going to fight. And that's what we did."

The Lions simply played ugly basketball for most of the game, trailing 22-29 at the end of the first half, shooting only 35 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from three.

Failing to do much of anything offensively, making just seven field goals in the first half, the Lions weren't rebounding well or guarding an Hawkeyes' team playing without its leading rebounder, senior forward Cyrus Tate.

Guard Jake Kelly led the Hawkeyes with 19 points on a scorching 7-for-10 shooting performance, flanked by forward Aaron Fuller (6-for-11).

"We weren't really executing on the defensive end early and we were just slacking in every aspect on the defensive end of it," Cornley admitted. "But we really just wanted to buckle down and make sure that we did whatever it takes to win.

"I think that's what we tried to exemplify tonight is that you may not be hitting every shots or a team may hit a lot of lucky shots, but you do whatever you have to do to win. That's what the entire team did tonight."

Battle, hampered by a nagging groin pull (though he wouldn't admit it in the post-game press conference) struggled through 0-3 shooting in the first half, scoring only four points on the free throw line.

But, leading the Lions with 11 points in their 22-5 run to close out the game, he fought his way to a 20 point game, hitting 9-of-11 free throws and nailing three key shots from deep range late in the game.

"He lets his lapses sometimes on offense - and I've told him this - affect his defense," DeChellis said. "When you're not making some shots or you don't have it going offensively, you need to create at the defensive end. I thought he did that the last 10-12 minutes of the game.

"But he's wrapped. He's wrapped pretty tightly. We tried to limit his practice the last couple of days. He cut some reps off.

"But, he's a competitive kid. He's not coming out. He's just not coming out. That's just something he's got inside of him... This break couldn't be coming at a better time for us."

As DeChellis alluded to, the Lions will now enjoy a break, not getting back out on the hardwood for game action until visiting Michigan State (15-3, 5-1) for a high-noon tipoff on Super Bowl Sunday. The Spartans beat the Lions at the BJC earlier this month, 78-73.


Notes:

- Only 11 players scored in the game, with just the Hawkeyes' starting five and Penn State's starting five, plus a three from Danny Morrissey, notching a stat in the point column.

- Battle had his 37th career double-figure game and 11th game with 20 or more points.

- Cornley's 24 points were enough for his 75th career double-figure game and 15th career game with 20 or more points.

- This is the fastest the Lions have reached five wins in the Big Ten since the 1995-96 team went 6-1 to open conference play.

- Cornley's post-game comments on the crowd's contribution to the win:

"That crowd, I have never been more proud of the showing that was displayed tonight when it comes to the student section and the adults on the opposite end. That plays so much of a big part of this victory because when you're down by 13 or 14 points with less than six minutes left in the game, you need some type of energy, and that's what they provided tonight. They provided a lot of energy and we fed off of that."

- Members of Penn State's Big Ten Championship-winning football team were on hand for a fan autograph session before the game, including Daryll Clark, Evan Royster, Navorro Bowman, Jared Odrick, Kevin Kelly, Andrew Pitz, Josh Hull, Stefen Wisniewski, and more.

- Class of 2009 commitments Mark Arcidiacono, and Curtis Drake were also on hand for the game, plus early enrollee quarterback Kevin Newsome.






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