Locked in tight battle with the Big Red throughout, the game was tied 64-64 in the late going. From that point, first-year coach Pat Chambers' club made all of the right moves to pull out a 74-67 win.
Penn State improved to 8-5 heading into Big Ten play while Cornell slipped to 4-6.
I'll tell you what, I thought we did a good job, Chambers said.
Indeed they did. The Nittany Lions did not commit a turnover in the final eight minutes. When they needed a big basket, sophomore guard Jermaine Marshall split the Big Red defense and scored. They played solid defense when it mattered, too, and did not allow second shots.
And after starting the second half 2 of 5 from the line, they made their final nine foul shots.
We made free throws, even after we missed a couple, which is good to see, Chambers said. No question, we got to the foul line when we needed to.
Cornell tied the game 64-64 when sharpshooting guard Drew Ferry hit a 3-pointer with 1:53 to go. But from there, it was all PSU.
Marshall hit a pair of free throws and then scored on the aforementioned drive to push the lead to 68-64. After forward Billy Oliver took an offensive foul, Lion senior Cammeron Woodyard was fouled. He made two shots with 27.1 showing and the lead was 70-64.
Undeterred, Ferry hit a 30-footer over a charging Tim Frazier. The lead was down to 70-67 with 20.8 showing.
But again Woodyard was hacked and again he made both free throws. The lead was 72-67 with 20.2 remaining. PSU rookie Trey Lewis came up with a steal at the other end and got the ball to Frazier, who capped the scoring with two more freebies.
Beyond performing well in the clutch, there was another key for the Lions. Namely, people besides Frazier stepped up.
Lewis, fully recovered from a high ankle sprain, was 4 of 6 on 3-pointers in the game. Woodyard was 3 of 3 from the arc and made the critical free throws. Marshall had a tough day from the floor (2 of 9) but scored when it mattered and went 8 of 11 from the line.
Frazier was strong, too, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
I trust my teammates 100 percent, he said. For them to make big shots, it relieves pressure on me. The defense has to worry about them, as well, and that opens things up for me.
Penn State has something to worry about now, too. From here on out, the overall caliber of the schedule improves significantly, starting with back-to-back road trips to Michigan (Dec. 29) and Northwestern (Jan. 1) to start Big Ten play.
For Chambers, who said his team has gotten so much better from the first game, the focus is still less about wins and losses and more about improving every time it hits the floor.
An vital part of that will be clicking on all cylinders for an entire outing as opposed to just the final two minutes.
If we can put together a 40-minute game, we're gonna be pretty good, he said.
Four Lions were in doubles: Frazier (17), Woodyard (13), Lewis (13) and Marshall (12).
PSU's 30 bench points were a season high.
Marshall had three blocked shots.
Chambers said he would have the team lift at 9 a.m. Thursday before allowing players to head home for Christmas. The Lions will reconvene in Happy Valley Dec. 26 with a double-session practice.