So many students showed up for the 9 p.m. game that -- for once -- some had to be funneled to the second level of the BJC. Cornley, a senior captain, showed his appreciation with the acknowledgement before the game.
And then he cut loose once the action started, scoring 17 points and ripping down 11 rebounds in a 73-58 win over a Wolverine team with wins over UCLA and Duke, and that was ranked as recently as Sunday.
Any time we can get a lot of students, it means a lot, not just to me, but to the program itself, Cornley said. I was very happy about that.
Here's something else he should be happy about: PSU is now 15-5 overall (4-3 in the Big Ten), marking the earliest in the season it has ever reached 15 victories. Michigan fell to 13-6 and 3-4.
The most important thing this team has is they believe they can win, Lion coach Ed DeChellis said. I thought we executed very well.
Cornley was in the middle of the pivotal run. Penn State led 29-22 at the break and started the second half with back-to-back buckets by Cornley wrapped around a pair of free throws by Wolverine Manny Harris. Then State's Andrew Jones had a stick-back to make it 35-24.
Cornley obviously is as good a player as there is in the conference, Michigan coach John Beilein said.
At the other end, Lion guard Stanley Pringle stripped Kelvin Grady and kicked the ball ahead to backcourt mate Talor Battle. Battle passed up the open layup to dish to Cornley for a jam and a 37-24 lead.
The crowd went nuts. Beilein called timeout to try to calm things down. But it was too late. There was 17:43 remaining, and the game was over.
When they got away from us, we were bad, Beilein said.
Added DeChellis, I think the kids really had fun out there.
Penn State played its best team basketball of the year in putting it away -- making the extra pass, drilling every open shot, crashing the boards and playing great team defense.
The lead reached 26 in the second half (72-46) before Michigan rallied in garbage time. At halftime, DeChellis told his troops that rebounding and defensive stops were the keys to victory.
Once we smelled blood, we continued to do that, Jones said.
Cornley was the star of the show but he received a lot of help.
Battle had 16 points and four assists. Pringle had a dozen points and six rebounds. Danny Morrissey came off the bench to make 3 of 4 triples and totaled 11 points. The center tandem -- Jones and Andrew Ott -- combined for 14 points and six rebounds.
It was fun to see, DeChellis said. They're a fun group to coach.
Michigan was not so fun to coach. Harris entered the game as the Big Ten's leading scorer but matched a career-low with four points on 1 of 9 shooting. As a team, U-M was 5 of 30 from the arc.
The only Wolverine who got anything going was forward DeShawn Sims (21 points, 11 rebounds), but by the time his teammates started finding him the game was out of reach.
Michigan opened the game by alternating between an aggressive 2-3 zone and a half-court 1-3-1 zone, defenses that were aimed at slowing the Lion guards. And it worked until DeChellis went with a three-guard attack for better ball movement. Down 7-4 after five minutes, PSU went on a 14-2 run to take an 18-9 lead.
The Wolverines' primary issue in the first half was poor shot selection. They went 2 of 16 from the arc and 9 of 30 overall. But they took advantage of all those misses by getting six offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points before the break.
Thanks to Cornley's strong work in the paint (11 point, eight rebounds), though, State led by seven at halftime.
By then, it was clear the expected showdown between the Big Ten's two leading scorers -- Harris (18.8 ppg. coming in) and Battle (18.6) -- was not going to happen. Cornley was clearly THE man.
Ironically enough, as the final seconds of the game clicked off the clock, Cornley had long since been relegated to the bench for a well-deserved rest. And the upper deck was all but empty, as the fans had headed home once the score got out of hand.
But that was OK by the senior forward. So long as they are back for the next game at the Jordan Center.
Hopefully they can continue to come, he said.
Penn State plays host to Iowa at the BJC Saturday in a game that tips at 6 p.m. A win over the Hawkeyes (11-7, 1-4) would give PSU its best Big Ten start since 1994-95.
The Lions remained unbeaten on the year (11-0) when Battle, Cornley and Pringle all reach doubles.
Penn State dominated despite stinking it up from the free throw line. The Lions made a season low (37.5 percent) 6 of 16 freebies in the game.