PSU Victory Hurts So Good

Sophomore forward Jamelle Cornley overcomes a painful hip injury to help the Nittany Lions end their losing streak. His 20 points and 13 rebounds prove to be too much for Adam Haluska and the Hawkeyes at the Jordan Center.

Penn State's Jamelle Cornley was in serious pain after Wednesday's home finale against Iowa at the Jordan Center.

There was nothing new about that. After all, the Nittany Lions carried a 13-game losing streak into the contest, and the emotional sophomore forward struggled with every wrenching defeat.

This time, however, it was merely physical anguish. Spurred by the frustration of the skid, Cornley did his best to ignore a throbbing right hip pointer while scoring 20 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to lead State's 74-72 upset of the Hawkeyes.

“It comes to a point where you say forget it, I'm going to take things into my own hands,” said Cornley, who injured the hip in Saturday's loss to Illinois. “… [so] I said forget it, I'm hurt, but that doesn't mean I can't give my all.”

He did that and then some as the Nittany Lions won for the first time since early January to improve to 11-17 overall and 2-13 in the Big Ten. Iowa, meanwhile, likely saw its NCAA tournament bubble burst after slipping to 16-13 and 8-7.

“I just feel good for our guys,” PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. “They've worked hard and stayed together and haven't splintered.”

They had every opportunity to do just that late in the game Wednesday.

The Lions opened with an 11-0 run, but Iowa crept back as the first half progressed. PSU led 33-30 at the break, and the first 12 minutes of the second half featured 11 lead changes and three ties before standout guard Adam Haluska wrapped a 3-pointer and three free throws around a Cornley dunk to give the Hawkeyes a 65-60 lead with 6:33 remaining.


Haluska went off for 30.

Penn State consistently came undone in similar situations throughout the losing streak. But this time Cornley had other ideas. He muscled in a basket in the paint and then went coast to coast off a steal to cut the lead to 65-64.

And he did this while going out of his way to avoid limping due to the pain and a thick football hip pad he wore to protect the injury.

“I don't like to let the other team know that I'm hurting,” Cornley said, adding that the Hawkeyes might have tried to exploit such a weakness.

“He started out a little slow, and at the first TV timeout I asked if he was going to be OK,” DeChellis said. “He goes, 'I'll be OK, just let me get loose.' And darn, he was more than OK.”

Haluska broke the momentum with a driving hoop and Cornley countered with an offensive rebound for a score as Iowa led 67-66 with 3:53 left. Then Lion guard Mike Walker, making his first start of the season in place of injured Ben Luber, made a 3-pointer on a break to put PSU up, 69-67.

Walker finished the game with a season-high 17 points and four assists. Fellow guard David Jackson had a dozen points and six rebounds. Forward Geary Claxton had 18 points, giving the Lions four men in doubles for the first time since their last win — over Northwestern at the BJC Jan. 3.

“I thought everybody played well, played with a lot of heart,” DeChellis said. Including the deep reserve who scored what proved to be the winning points.

Penn State led 71-69 with 1:54 left when backup center Joonas Suotamo fouled Iowa post Seth Gorney on what the Lion camp contended was a clean block. But it didn't matter. Gorney missed both free throws and Suotamo was then hacked after grabbing the rebound. He calmly hit both ends of a one and one to make it 73-69.

Cornley stretched it to 74-69 when he made one of two free throws a minute later. Then, with 52 seconds left, Haluska made an open 3-pointer — giving him 30 points on the night — to cut it to 74-72. Jackson traveled with 21.7 seconds left to give Iowa a chance to tie or win with a final shot.

Hawkeye coach Steve Alford called timeout to set his offense. Meanwhile, Penn State had a foul to give, so DeChellis told his troops to use it to take Iowa out of its flow. He also went with a man defense for one of the few times all evening, with Claxton shadowing Haluska.

When action resumed, nearly everything went haywire. The Hawkeyes appeared to be confused by the man defense and never did run the set play Alford designed. And the Lions never did foul. Luckily for them, Haluska, the Big Ten's leading scorer, did not get close to the ball for the final shot.

As time was about to expire, guard Mike Henderson launched a 25-footer over Walker that would have won it.


Henderson had a chance.

“I thought it was going in for sure,” Walker said, lamenting the team's lousy luck all season. “… But tonight it seemed the basketball gods owed us one.”

The shot was long. The streak was over.

And the basketball gods got a basketball amen from the 6,706 Penn State fans in the arena.

Generally speaking, the Nittany Lions were thrilled. “It's just a different feeling than we've had the last month and a half,” Walker said.

As for Cornley?

“I'm sore. Very sore.”

He was smiling when he said it.

GAME NOTES

Penn State was 10 of 18 from the arc in the game; Iowa 9 of 21.

• The Lions won the battle of the boards, 32-26.

• Suotamo did not play in the game before entering with 11:34 remaining. He was on the floor the rest of the way, giving the Lions a physical presence at center that neither starter Brandon Hassell (two points and no defensive rebounds in 21 minutes) nor Milos Bogetic provided.

• While replacing Luber at the point in the last two games, Walker has tallied a combined 31 points, 10 assists and three turnovers. It is difficult to understand why he was averaging only 17 minutes in 13 Big Ten outings before Luber injured his left wrist at Ohio State a week ago.

• Penn State closes the regular season Saturday at Indiana.

See Penn State's Season Box Scores Here.

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