There was a point last night where I was cursing the entire state of Iowa. "What did we ever do to them?" I thought as Penn State trailed by 14 points with under eleven minutes to go. They already ruined our hopes of a national championship in football. Now they were going to make us sit at home once again and watch the NCAA tournament in March wondering if we'll ever get back.
Penn State looked lifeless all night. They fell down by ten points early in the first half and just couldn't cut into the lead. They were taking bad shots in the face of a stifling Hawkeye defense. On the defensive end they couldn't stop Jake Kelly from getting open for easy jumpers. And Iowa refused to miss from the foul line hitting all but one of their 16 foul shots. It looked like another game where the Nittany Lions were going to lay an egg in front of a huge home crowd that was just starting to believe this team might be good but wasn't quite sure.
And then Jamelle Cornley decided that wasn't going to happen. With 9:32 to go and his team down by nine points he let the refs know he wasn't pleased with the job they were doing.
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 technical foul ignited the home crowd, and the energy they created turned Cornley into the incredible Hulk in high tops. After Matt Gatens sank both free throws to extend the Iowa lead back to 11 points, it was all Penn State from there. The Nittany Lions closed out the remaining nine and a half minutes with a 25-10 run to pull out an improbable win and keep their post season hopes alive.
When the team desperately needed someone to get something going, Jamelle Cornley put the team on his back and carried them to victory. He closed out the final ten minutes of the game with 10 points, three rebounds, and a steal. For the game he had 24 points and six rebounds and played all 40 minutes.
Cornley was not going to be denied
Talor Battle had a quietly fantastic game. Nine of his 20 points came from the free throw line, and after the Cornley technical he was instrumental in getting things going by rattling off nine straight points for Penn State.
The Penn State defense did well to hold El Presidente David Palmer to just six points and eight rebounds.
As mentioned, the home crowd was fantastic at the end of the game. However...
The home crowd was completely out of it for the first 30 minutes of play. When the team needed a spark the most in the first half, the crowd mostly sat on their hands and just watched Iowa shut them down. I wish Penn State fans would just jump on board and support this team through the good and the bad. But we seem to have this "prove to me you're good and then I'll support you" mentality. It's sad this team has to win 15 games before we can get 10,000 fans to show up. And it's equally sad that when things start going bad on the court the crowd is almost ashamed to make noise to disrupt the opponent. If at any point during that game you said or thought to yourself, "Same old Penn State basketball. We suck," then shame on you. Enjoy this team and pick them up when they need it.
Nobody except for Cornley, Battle and for brief moments Pringle showed up. Andrew Jones was non-existent only scoring two points on two shots. He even got fouled on that one basket and blew the foul attempt as you would expect. Danny Morrissey only had three points on one bucket. It came on a nice backwards no-look drop pass from Talor Battle on a fast break. It's one of those shots you just have to make or else the point guard isn't going to waste any more passes on you for the night.
David Jackson didn't get off a single shot in 18 minutes of play. It's like his confidence is destroyed to the point he doesn't even want the ball in his hands when the play clock is winding down. But he did play some nice defense and had a block, a steal, and three rebounds.
Why did Andrew Ott only play two minutes after looking so impressive against Michigan? I don't get that.
While Talor Battle made 9-of-11 free throws, the two he missed were huge. With Penn State clinging to a slim three point lead in the final seconds he twice missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have sealed the game. Ugly. But I don't think this is a function of him choking. Nobody on this team is more clutch than Talor Battle. I think he's just tired from playing 36 or 40 minutes in every game. From my observation he needs to bend his knees more and use his legs. His technique is all arms which are tired from passing, shooting and dribbling all night.
The killer stretch of February. Penn State will get a week off before they travel to Michigan State and try to avenge the five point home loss from a week ago. That game featured another furious comeback after being down by double digits for most of the night. The Spartans have a chink in their armour after losing to Northwestern at home this week, so Ed's boys should have confidence going into the game.
After going to East Lansing the Nittany Lions will have a difficult stretch of games against Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State that will determine our post season fate. Who knows, maybe this team can ride Battle and Cornley all the way to the NCAA tournament. It's not unheard of for two guys to carry a team to an NCAA berth. It's been done before, but I would feel a whole lot better if we could count on Pringle, Morrissey, and Jones to all give us ten points a game.