But this one was really won in the two days leading up to the contest, when Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis rode sophomore forward Jamelle Cornley. The Spartans, you see, feature outstanding junior forward Kyle Hines, a sturdy 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who plays very much like Cornley.
Being touted as an All-America candidate by UNCG, Hines torched Marshall for 38 points Friday night. Which is where DeChellis mind games with Cornley came in.
I tried to tell him how wonderful Hines was — eloquently, the coach said with a smile. I think he took that a little personal and that was the purpose.
It worked. Continuing to pick up the slack for injured standout Geary Claxton, Cornley got the best of Hines, scoring a career-high 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Not that Hines was a slouch, posting 20 and seven himself. But it was not nearly enough.
Im the type of player, I hate when people blow people up. I hate it, Cornley said. Coach does a good job of pushing my buttons. Hes starting to really figure me out. He knows that it irritates me, but he knows at the end of the day Im going to go as hard as I can at that person.
Cornley did most of his damage in the second half of a game that was tied 49-49 with just less than 10 minutes remaining. With a chance for the Spartans to take the lead, guard Ricky Hickman missed a layup and Hines picked up his fourth foul (on Cornley) while going for the offensive rebound.
That sent Hines to the bench and Cornley to the line, where he made two to break the deadlock. The next time down the floor, Mike Walker whipped a behind-the-back pass to Ben Luber, who found open space against UNCGs 1-3-1 trap and made a 3-pointer and it was 54-49.
Three minutes later, Walker missed a jumper and Danny Morrissey grabbed the offensive rebound. Then Walker missed a triple and Cornley swooped in for one of his eight offensive boards. PSU ran clock until Mooch Jackson drove to the hoop for a layup and 58-49 lead that allowed State to coast to victory.
With seven offensive rebounds in the second half, Cornley set the tone for the Lions. The entire team had two offensive rebounds in the first half, after which DeChellis laid into his troops for not giving enough effort in Claxtons absence.
I said he aint rebounding for us tonight, fellas, you have to go and get the ball, the coach explained. Cornley and company responded.
There were other keys, too. Luber played another strong floor game, scoring 13 points to go along with four assists and two steals. Walker had a career-high seven assists and Morrissey five, and as a team the Lions had 20 helpers on 20 buckets.
And junior forward Brandon Hassell played the best game of his career, with nine points, five rebounds and four steals. He also helped keep Hines in check.
Of course, Cornley had a little something to do with that, too. And DeChellis had a little something to do with Cornley coming up big.
He was a beast, from what I heard, Cornley said of Hines. That probably brought out the best of me.
DeChellis said Claxton is doing conditioning work to stay in shape while rehabbing a broken right hand but he cant run for extended periods or the hand swells. The coach does not expect him back any time soon. There is nothing new, DeChellis said.
DeChellis on Hassell, who was limited to 10 minutes in the opener against Morehead State due to foul trouble but stepped up Monday: If he can give us that every night, its gonna be pretty good. That's what I think he can do. Ive seen him do that in practice. I just havent coached him well enough to get him [to do what] he did tonight.
True freshman D.J. Jackson saw some quality playing time late in the game, taking over for Hassell because he is a better passer. Jackson had four points and two rebounds in 14 minutes. He plays right now because you tell him something one time and he has it, DeChellis said. Hes long and he competes. He can pass and catch the ball, and thats very important.
UNCG is now 0-2 and travels to Duke Thursday.
Penn State faces Stony Brook Friday at the Jordan Center. The game tips at 7:30.