Lickliter and crew, now at Iowa, looked on Saturday night as Cornley led a furious, late-game Nittany Lion comeback in a 63-59 victory at State College, Penn. The senior notched a game-high 24 points and grabbed six rebounds in 40 minutes. Iowa led the game for its first 38 minutes.
"He was a handful," Iowa power forward Aaron Fuller said on the radio postgame. "He was really strong, really aggressive, getting every board and just taking advantage with his strength. He's a great player, and he really made some big plays down the stretch."
Iowa (12-8 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) did not get a bench point on Saturday. Sophomore Jake Kelly led the Hawkeyes with 19 points to match a career-high. Matt Gatens contributed nine points, five rebounds and three assists without a turnover in a losing effort.
Fuller, who bested his career-high of eight points with 10 in the first half, finished with 16 points for Iowa. David Palmer, who went from seldom-used reserve to averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds in the previous two games, went for 6 and 8 in State College. The junior struggled to get into a flow due to early foul trouble.
"(Fuller) showed what his potential is, his upside, no question," Lickliter said. "He's a guy, though, he's been with us since the beginning of the summer. He should be benching 285, 300, somewhere in there. I just don't think he is.
"I'm not upset with Aaron. We've got to address it. No question. We're not going to get any stronger tomorrow. We're going to have to get tougher."
Iowa now has lost three Big Ten games by a total of 10 points.
"I've said we could have win a couple of games (coming into Saturday's action)," Lickliter said. "This is one that we should have won. We controlled it too long to let it get away."
Said Fuller: "We had them. We were up double digits. But down the stretch, they made key plays, getting offensive rebounds, hitting threes in transition. We had them. We just couldn't make the plays down the stretch."
An inexperienced Iowa backcourt outplayed a highly-touted group from Penn State for much of the game. Taylor Battle (18.4 PPG) came into the contest leading the league in scoring. Stanley Pringle (14.3) ranked as the league's seventh best scorer.
The Nittany Lions dynamic duo responded in the game's final minutes, however. Battle ended up with 20 points, scoring 14 of those in the final eight minutes. Pringle chipped in with 11.
Iowa color analyst Bobby Hansen felt like the Hawkeyes ran our of energy at game's end.
"We might have gotten tired. We played a lot of minutes, but you have to," Lickliter said. "But I've been saying all along that I don't think there's any excuse for somebody at this level not being strong. I've coached at this level. We're just not strong enough.
"Now, I don't know if you get Cornley strength or not. He benches 370. But at Butler every four man we had, if I'm not mistaken, benched 325. We just don't have that. We've got to get to the point where we can match the physicalness of this league. We've got pretty good skill, but we've got to get stronger."
Iowa played without starting center Cyrus Tate for the fourth game in a row. The senior captain suffered a high ankle sprain against Minnesota on Jan. 8. He told Big Ten Network announcers before the game that he was frustrated, still real sore and the injury was slow coming around.
After relinquishing a 13-point lead, Iowa still had an opportunity to tie the game twice in the final 15 seconds. Palmer misfired badly on a 3-point try and Jeff Peterson had his trey attempt blocked by Pringle. Both shots came with the Lions ahead 62-59.
"I was trying to call a timeout,, but I couldn‘t get the officials‘ attention" Lickliter said of the point before Peterson's shot. "I wanted to see after we got it across half court what defense they were in. Their defense was set, so I wanted to call timeout. It didn't work the way I planned it.
"So, here we are. We just let one get away again. It's tough."
It proved to be a bitter pill for a team that looked like it could pull off the upset and led for all but two minutes of the game.
"They made real strides and played with poise," Lickliter said of his players. "They did just about everything, but the game goes on a little bit longer than that. Down the end, we made plays the other night ( in an OT win against Wisconsin). Tonight, we couldn't make plays.
"Cornley makes a three. We're up six and he shoots a three in. That's kind of what you want to happen. But he shoots it in."
The Hawkeyes took their biggest lead of the game at 47-33 on a Kelly pull-up jumper with 11 minutes, 38 seconds to play in the game. Penn State Coach Ed DeChellis then decided to change the game's tempo by pressing the visitors in the full court.
It worked initially as the Nittany Lions (16-5, 5-3) ripped off five unanswered points and had the ball. They missed a shot and the ball went out of bounds. Cornley complained to referee Ed Hightower about it going to going to Iowa and earned himself a technical.
The Hawkeyes took advantage, scoring four points with two free throws each by Gatens and Kelly. After a Battle 3-pointer, Kelly countered with a trey of his own for a 54-41 lead with 8:05 to play in the game.
Iowa seemed to have snatched back the momentum, but that pressure defense from the Lions proved to be too much for the Hawkeyes to handle. Penn State forced turnovers, got the crowd involved, rattled the visitors and finished the game on a 22-5 run. In that spurt, Battle (11) and Cornley (10) scored 21 of the 22 points.
Battle got the run going when he was fouled by Kelly taking a three and made all three foul shots awarded him. Lickliter felt that was a big play.
"Jake had really been defending well," the Iowa Coach said. "That was a real turning point. Instead of our rebound and going down up 14, we're up 11. I don't blame Jake. That stuff happens. I was proud of the way he guarded. "
Both teams came out cold on offense. The game went scoreless until Gatens knocked down a 3-pointer with 17:02 to play in the first half. Penn State received its first point when Cornley hit a turnaround jumper at the 16:32 mark.
The visitors set the tone early, keeping the Nittany Lions out of their transition game, and jumping out to a 9-2 lead in the game's first six minutes. Fuller, an on-again, off-again starter this season, scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in the spurt to go with the Gatens' trey.
Penn State responded with a run to get within a point of the lead. Iowa bounced back with an 11-0 run to give the Hawkeyes a 20-8 advantage on a Peterson jumper with 8:15 remaining before the intermission.
The Lions reeled off a 12-3 surge of their own to get within three of the lead. Kelly then scored all of the points in a 6-2 spurt by Iowa to end the half.
Iowa enjoyed a 29-22 halftime lead despite significant foul trouble. Gatens only played 10 minutes after picking up two quick ones. Peterson, Palmer and Cole also lost time because of multiple fouls.
"Penn State is a good team," Fuller said. "We had them. We proved we can play on the road. But we just have to close out and finish. We had them. But you have to play the whole 40 minutes not 39."