Jamelle Cornley continues to reinforce my original thoughts that he is the Michael Robinson of our basketball program. A class act off the court, Jamelle epitomizes every thing this University stands for. It’s a shame that the first three years of his career have gone by without much recognition from PSU’s fan base (or much success on the court). I’m sure many of the 12,210 fans that attended the game yesterday didn’t even know what #2’s name was. Well, they sure knew who he was after his performance last night. While playing every minute of the game, Jamelle scored 24 points (11-17 from the floor), 6 boards (4 offensive) with a couple assists. He single-handedly brought PSU all the way back from a putrid 31 minutes of basketball and allowed Talor Battle to finish the game off as PSU held on for a thrilling 63-59 victory.
Jamelle and Talor’s efforts helped overcome PSU’s worst stretch of basketball of the season. The Nittany Lions came out as a totally different team than the team that beat UM a mere 4 days earlier. Their offense was to say the least, stagnant. There was no fluidity and PSU was not executing any sets or screens. PSU’s guards particularly struggled in the first half. Perhaps I underestimated Jeff Peterson’s speed, but I couldn’t help but notice while at the game that Battle, who continues to say he feels fine physically, looked slow (I assumed his groin strain was still hampering him). Press row apparently noticed it, too. Talor couldn’t get a step on Peterson when he had the ball, and he sure couldn’t stay in front of Peterson on defense. Battle’s inabilities opened up Iowa’s offense and halted PSU’s for most of the game. Iowa played about as well as they have played this season (at least from what I’ve seen), taking advantage of the chasing PSU defense by having Peterson penetrate and then make the extra passes to get open looks. PSU couldn’t get any good looks at the basket. Not only was Battle struggling, Pringle was as well. I wish Pringle had more of a point guard’s mentality. He’s always thinking to score first when he gets in the lane and pass second. He could’ve taken his defender off the dribble plenty of times, but he couldn’t hang onto the ball in the first half (4 turnovers). Jamelle Cornley kept PSU from getting run out of their own building, creating his own offense with some tough fadeaway mid-range J’s. He was the only one on the floor for PSU in the first half who looked like he actually wanted to take a shot. After a sideways Jake Kelly jumper at the buzzer, PSU was down 29-22 at the half. Jamelle hit 5 of PSU’s 7 field goals in the half.
It was more of the same in the 2nd half. Aaron Fuller and Jake Kelly continued to have career games for the Hawkeyes as PSU was still struggling to put points in the basket. Iowa dictated the tempo by running clock and being efficient on offense. Whenever PSU would actually score, Iowa would come right back with an answer. The crowd was getting restless and things were getting bleak. At Iowa’s pace, a 13 point deficit seems more like 23 points. It was 47-33 with a little over 10 minutes to go when PSU forced two Iowa turnovers and converted them for 5 points. PSU cut the lead to 47-38 at that point. Danny Morrissey missed a three and after a battle for the rebound, Ed Hightower awarded Iowa the possession. Jamelle Cornley disagreed with the call and he let Hightower know it. He couldn’t bite his tongue and deservedly got T’d up. I sat about 4 rows from where this T took place. Let me just say, JC told the truth when he gave his explanation of the event in his post game presser. From David Jones’ article.
The capper came when veteran crew chief Ed Hightower rightly T’d up Cornley for a smart comment after Hightower had blown an out-of-bounds call. Cornley said Hightower told him no more backtalk.
Related Cornley, “I said, ‘Yes, sir, I intend to do my job and you do yours.’ Let me just say, it was my fault.”
Jamelle went on to say that the Technical was a turning point in the game. From Mark Brennan…
“That’s what sparked me,” Cornley said. “I said, OK, if you want to give me a technical foul, I’m going to make sure my troops — everyone in this building — knows that we’re gonna fight. And that’s what they did.”
One player it definitely sparked was Talor Battle. When asked what got him going in his presser, Battle immediately said Jamelle and his leadership, as he thanked his senior teammate for his outstanding play. After that technical, Battle had his bounce in his step back. He was staying in front of Peterson and he started making shots. In fact, after the technical, Battle scored PSU’s next 9 points. Jake Kelly was still hitting shots for Iowa, though, as they continued to keep their 10 point lead. However, Kelly picked up 3 fouls in 2 minutes, including a foul on Battle as he attempted a 3. All of a sudden Kelly had 4 fouls and found himself a seat on Lickliter’s bench. PSU took advantage of Kelly’s absence. Battle hit a three, then Jamelle went on a run of 10 straight points for PSU. He started it off with a tough offensive board and putback in between two Iowa players as he was falling down for a 3 point play. He then came back with a smooth, confident stroke from three, as he hit his 9th 3 pointer of the season. That cut Iowa’s lead to 56-53. The 12,210 fans were starting to erupt (and credit to the ones who stayed that originally came for the football team).
I forget exactly when, but coach DeChellis in the second half applied some full court pressure in an effort to speed up the game and force some turnovers. Iowa handled the pressure well, but they did throw the ball out of bounds on one occasion. At that point, it was 59-57 with over 2 minutes to go. Right then, I had no doubts about the outcome of the game. In a true example of what a competitor Talor Battle is, he missed an open look at a 3 pointer. Jeff Brooks came up with a huge offensive rebound and kicked it out. As soon as the ball hit Battle’s hands again just 6 seconds later, he was putting it back up. It didn’t matter if the shot was contested or if he was off balanced. He was knocking it down, and that he did. Just like that, PSU had risen from the depths of basketball hell and took their first lead of the whole ball game. Iowa’s next possession turned into a clean Talor Battle strip and breakaway. He got fouled as he went up, and drained both foul shots. PSU 62-59 with a little over a minute left.
The next minute was a struggle for PSU, though. After Iowa’s Matt Gatens missed a deep look from 3, Jeff Brooks got the rebound and PSU was looking to run some clock. With less than 5 seconds on the shot clock, Morrissey put up a 3 that clanged off the rim. Jamelle Cornley then turned in probably the best play of the game. He chased down the rebound in between two Hawkeyes. As he was going out of bounds on the baseline, he turned around and hurled a 25 foot pass under duress to Talor Battle, who was hanging out at the top of the key. All Battle did when he caught JC’s pass was laugh and smile at the absurdity of the play that just happened. It was a pretty surreal moment. So was watching Daryll Clark behind the basket exchange words with Cornley for most of the second half. At one point, I could have sworn DC was going to run out in the court and give Jamelle a good ol’ headbutt. The footballers were even joining in on Zombie Nation.
Battle was fouled as the shot clock was dead and Iowa had to. He was 9-9 from the foul line at that point, but he ended up missing the front ends of 2 one-and-ones. It’s becoming clear to me that Talor Battle comes through when PSU is in danger of losing. But if there’s no chance for PSU to lose (ex: being up 3), it’s no guarantee that he’ll make it. Luckily for PSU, Iowa’s David Palmer missed an open look from the wing to tie it (DJ Jackson, what the hell were you doing on the play). And on Iowa’s last chance, Todd Lickliter wanted to call TO to set up a set with under 10 seconds to go. However get this, the BJC was too loud and the officials didn’t hear Lickliter. Peterson put up a deep three that Stanley rejected. He got the ball off the deflection, got fouled, hit a foul shot and the miracle comeback was complete.
This was a monumental win for Penn State. Jamelle’s senior leadership and Talor’s playmaking makes this one hell of a team to watch. They won over a lot of PSU fans last night. I said a few days ago that a lot of PSU trends will have to be broken for PSU to dance. They broke one last night. In what looked like the annual home game where PSU draws a huge crowd and huge momentum only to choke it all away, these guys refused to let that happen. I’ve seen this team lose at home to last place Minnesota after ending the Dee Brown Illini home win streak in 2006. I’ve seen this team completely get dominated in all aspects of the game against Michigan State in 2007 in front of 10k+ fans. I certainly haven’t forgotten about that complete meltdown against Minnesota last year at home, after starting the Big Ten campaign off 2-0. None of those futile games were replayed last night, although it sure looked like a replay for 31 minutes.
You can’t help but get a special feeling about this team. PSU hasn’t had competitors like this since Joe Crispin and Titus Ivory in 2001. We all know how that magical season turned out. As PSU heads into their toughest stretch of the season, everyone should strap themselves in. It’s gonna be a wild ride, so start believing in the team. Now admittedly, I still have that tiny seed of doubt that PSU really hasn’t beaten anyone yet, but this win feels so much like the NW win of the 2005 football campaign, I can’t help but think bigger things are to come. It would help if the rest of the team outside of the Big 3 got on board.
*Let’s just pray none of the Big 3 makes a pitstop to the training room at any point the rest of the season.