Cornley Strong Off Bench in Win

Freshman power forward Jamelle Cornley has yet to start a game for Penn State this year. If the Nittany Lions' sluggish performance against Missouri-Kansas City at the Jordan Center Wednesday was any indication, maybe that ought to change.

Statistically, Jamelle Cornley is by far Penn State's best post player, having entered the game as the team's second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg.) while hitting a strong 70.3 percent of his shots. And with him on the pine to start both halves, the Lions were outscored 15-0 early in the first and 15-4 before he hit the floor in the second.

That's 30-4, if you are keeping tabs at home. The rest of the way, with Cornley pouring in 17 points and leading an active defense, PSU outscored UMKC 70-41 to escape with a 74-71 victory and improve to 4-2 on the season while busting a two-game losing streak.

“Thank gosh for our bench,” said Lion coach Ed DeChellis, whose reserves - led by Cornley, guard Mike Walker (17) and center Milos Bogetic (14 points, 10 rebounds) - outscored his starters, 50-21. All three aforementioned players reached career highs in points in the game.

But Cornley, at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, was the key to it all.

“Not starting doesn't bother me,” he said. “They know I provide energy when I come in. I bring energy and toughness.”

The Lions were in desperate need of both early in the game. Starting post players Brandon Hassell and Travis Parker looked lost on both ends of the floor. At 6-10, Hassell has terrific athletic skills but no feel for the game, and at one point tried to throw down a follow dunk that jammed awkwardly into the bottom of the rim.

“It's not gymnastics,” DeChellis said later. “You don't get any points for style.”

Which was good thing.

As a team State missed its first 14 shots before starting guard David Jackson broke the dry spell with a triple. Once Cornley, Bogetic and Walker hit the floor, everything magically came together. The defense tightened. The running game shifted into gear. There were Nittany Lion hands on every loose ball.

“As soon as I got on the court, I thought, we are not gonna lose,” Cornley said. True enough, PSU scored 16 straight to go up 16-15 and it was tight all the way to the half, when the Kangaroos (now 3-2) led 28-26.

Hassell and Parker returned to start the second, and UMKC shot out again, this time leading by as many as 14. But Cornley and company came off the bench to save the day again. State went up 55-53 with seven minutes left when Geary Claxton followed his own miss and never trailed again.

“Last year we would have never been able to come out of a hole like that,” Walker said. “We're a lot younger and more optimistic.”

Hassell never did score in the game, going 0-3 in nine minutes. Parker broke the ice with a pair of free throws with three minutes to go, and, to his credit, shook off the rough evening to nail a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:23 left and the score tied 69-69.

Dee Ayuba and Tim Blackwell missed open looks for the Kangaroos, before Jackson grabbed a long rebound and kicked ahead to Cornley who finished the break - and realistically speaking, the game - with a flush.

Afterward, UMKC coach Rich Zvosec only half-jokingly said of Cornley, “I don't know if he's 18. If he's 18, holy cow.” But Cornley is, indeed, only 18, and won't hit 19 until next April.

Whether he hits the starting lineup before then is something of a dilemma for DeChellis, who had no bench the last two seasons yet now suddenly has several players who are strong in reserve roles. But does that really matter if the Lions fall behind early every game, as they did in the losses to Clemson and Texas A&M that led into this matchup?

“We'll have to think about that and see where we go with it,” DeChellis said.

NOTES: Starting point guard Ben Luber sprained his left shoulder in the second half and did not return. He is not expected to miss any more game action, though. “I wish Luber had not hurt his shoulder,” Zvosec said, in a thinly veiled reference to the fact that Walker was a much more dangerous matchup for his squad. … Claxton, State's leading scorer, had an off night, making only 4 of 14 shots. … This game is a one-shot deal, with no further games slated between the two teams. ... Penn State is at Pitt Saturday in a game that tips at 2 p.m. and will be shown on FSN Pittsburgh.

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