But the senior forward, who watched from the bench due to an injured left shoulder, still had an impact on the game. Prior to tip, Cornley gave the Nittany Lions specific instructions.
He told us we can't lose on his floor, senior guard Stanley Pringle said.
And they didn't. Pringle was one of four Penn State players in double figures, scoring 19 points as the Lions led from tape to tape in an 83-72 victory. They improved to 24-11 on the year, and in doing so posted their highest single-game point total since before Christmas.
Everyone came in and pitched in, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said. I thought we had a total team effort.
For most of the year -- particularly in Big Ten play -- the Lions relied on Cornley, Pringle and leading scorer Talor Battle to do most of the heavy lifting from a points perspective. But that has suddenly changed in the NIT, as a host of younger, less experienced players are stepping up.
Battle had 16 Thursday, but only two in the second half. In the meantime, sophomore center Andrew Jones registered a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and freshman guard Chris Babb notched his second-straight career-high scoring effort (13).
I give them credit, said URI coach Jim Baron, whose team closed at 23-11. They made plays and made shots and weren't affected by Cornley being out.
That was clear early. Penn State opened with a 20-5 explosion, which was a great sign considering the Lions -- with Cornley -- lost to these same Rams in Philadelphia Nov. 28. Though he only scored one bucket in the opening run, Jones dominated the paint, grabbing six rebounds in the game's first eight minutes.
In the previous meeting, Jones did not log a rebound as he struggled against URI big man Kahiem Seawright.
I took it a little personal, he said after this one.
The Rams got back in it by using a press -- something Penn State saw very little of in the Big Ten -- to unleash a 12-0 spurt and cut the margin to 20-17. But after the Lions adjusted, they were off to the races again, pushing the lead quickly back into double digits. State had seven turnovers in the game's first 12 minutes and four the rest of the way.
Once we got comfortable with attacking (the press) I thought we were much better, DeChellis said.
The lead was 11 (42-39) at the half. In the final 20 minutes, the Rams inched closer on a few occasions -- usually following a bomb by URI deadeye senior Jimmy Baron -- but each time PSU responded by picking up the pace and easing away.
Baron had 22 points with 10 minutes remaining and the Rams trailing 61-51. But for the rest of the game, he was defended by Lion senior reserve Danny Morrissey. Though more well-known for his own shooting prowess, Morrissey shut down Baron, forcing him to go 0 of 4 from the floor down the stretch.
Danny played well, Pringle said. He told us sometimes it takes a shooter to know a shooter.
Morrissey did not attempt a the shot in the game. But he did go 6 of 6 from the line in the waning minutes. As a team, the Lions were 27 of 31. This after entering the night making only 64 percent of their freebies.
What trouble? DeChellis cracked when asked if he was surprised by the strong showing after the team struggled from the stripe most of the season.
State's last 15 points came from the line (on 18 tries), so it scarcely mattered that Battle was held out for the final 3:18 after bruising a hip.
In fact, it was fitting. Because on this night, getting it done without the stars was sort of a theme.
That's what we were hoping for all year, DeChellis said of the balanced scoring. Now we're getting it.
Penn State next faces the winner of Miami at Florida (which will be played Friday night). If the Hurricanes win, the game will be at the BJC next Wednesday. If the Gators win, the game will be in Gainesville Monday.
DeChellis said he was not sure if Cornley would be available for the next round. Early indications are that Battle will be ready to go.
The 24 wins are the second most in school history.