Nittany Lions win NIT for program's first-ever national tourney title

New York — With a chorus of cheers from 36 buses loads of fans ringing down on them and a who's who of Penn State dignitaries in the stands, the Nittany Lion basketball team left the Madison Square Garden floor Thursday night as no other had before in program history, as national tournament champions.

Playing the gritty, energized, relentless basketball it used all season to record a school record win total, Penn State (27-11) posted a 69-63 victory over Baylor (24-15) in the National Invitation Tournament Championship game in New York City to complete a story book season of program firsts and claim just the second post-season tournament title in program history and first since the 1991 A-10 tournament crown.

"You don't know what it's going to be like when you go into it," senior Jamelle Cornley said with a wide smile and tear-swollen eyes. "The last time I cut down the nets was the state championship my freshman year of high school. To cut down some more nets in my last game is just an unbelievable feeling."

Cornley, who led Penn State with 18 points and seven rebounds, was named the NIT MVP despite playing the last three games of the tournament with his partially separated left shoulder tightly wrapped. One of four seniors who left the floor for the final time with a win and helped Penn State to log victories in 10 of its last 13 games, Cornley will leave an indelible mark on the Nittany Lion program for his production on the court and his emotional leadership on and off it. The 6-5, 245-pound forward who was told he was undersized by most major programs, ends his career as the Penn State's fourth all-time leading scorer (1,579) and rebounder (756).

Fellow seniors Stanley Pringle (10 points) and Danny Morrissey (nine points) also had big nights. Morrissey canned three big threes and epitomized the all-out effort of the Lions when he suffered a split lip and mild concussion while diving headlong for a loose ball with just over two minutes to play. The Lions third all-time three-point shooter ended his career with 221 treys.

"We have tough kids," said Penn State coach Ed DeChellis who was congratulated on the court by legendary Nittany Lion football coach Joe Paterno and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris. "We're going to compete. That's been our trademark all year. That play typifies what our team has been like all year."

Sophomore Talor Battle, who was also named to the All-tournament team, added 12 points (all in the second half), seven assists and six boards and ended the year with the Penn State single-season assist record with 189 and the Lions' fifth-best ever single season scoring mark with 635 points. Sophomore David Jackson added 10 points as the Lions shot 54 percent in the second half and out-rebounded the taller Bears 36-29, including 12 offensive boards.

LaceDarius Dunn led Baylor with 18 points on four threes and Curtis Jerrells added 14 for a Bear team that shot just six free throws compared to the Lions 18-of-28 at the charity stripe.

Penn State used a pair of Cornley buckets and a Jackson three to mount a 7-1 run to start the second half and turn a 29-25 halftime deficit into a 32-30 lead and force a Baylor timeout with 17:52 to play as the partisan Nittany Lion crowd roared.

Baylor answered with a 4-0 run to reclaim a 34-32 lead. Penn State went back on top with a Cornley hook in the lane and then Bear coach Scott Drew got hit with a technical after arguing a call and flinging his coat over the Baylor bench. Battle went to the line and hit one free throw for a 37-34 lead.

Tweety Carter quickly tied it with a deep three before Penn State put together a 9-0 run on long range shooting to seize control of the game. Morrissey hit a pair of threes and Jeff Brooks added another as the Lions took a 46-37 lead and forced a BU timeout with 10:32 to play.

Battle would extend the lead to 10, 50-40, with a scoop shot in the lane for his first field goal of the game. With Penn State leading 52-42, Cornley was whistled for a technical of his own after arguing a foul call on a driving Dunn. Dunn made two free throws and the Bears capitalized with a lay-up by Kevin Rogers on the ensuing inbound to cut the lead to 52-46.

Penn State held a 55-48 margin with 4:21 to play, and Baylor was looking to cut the lead when Pringle got a steal and was intentionally fouled on his way for a lay-up. He made both free throws and Penn State got the ball back, but Pringle slipped on the large logo at mid-court and lost the ball. Morrissey dived near the scorers table to save it, smacking his head against the floor, but Baylor came up with the ball and Rogers converted a lay-up.

Penn State pushed its lead back to double-digits after a Battle drive and up-and-under bucket and a Pringle free throw and led 62-50 with 1:28 to play.

Jerrells made a pair of free throws and Penn State turned it over against the Baylor press. Tweety buried a three off the turnover to cut the lead to 62-55 with 1:05 to play. After a Jackson turnover against the Bear press, Henry Dugat missed a three and a chance to tighten the game further. Jackson ripped the rebound and was fouled by Jerrells. The Lion went to the line and sank both for a 64-55 lead.

Baylor would send the Lions to the line eight more times in the final seconds and the Lions made five to stave off the Bears, who got within five, 68-63, on a Carter three with 17 seconds to play.

Baylor took a 29-25 lead to the half after a very closely played first 20 minutes in which the teams swapped leads and no team led by more than six. Penn State started strong on the glass, but struggled from the field against the Bears 2-3 zone. Penn State went cold late in the half and shoot just 37 percent and 2-of-11 from three in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Baylor shot 46 percent and made five threes. Penn State held a 19-13 rebounding edge at the half and had seven offensive boards.

Penn State went right to work with Cornley in the post to start the game and the big man scored six of the Lions first nine and carried the Penn State offense early. He finished with 10 points and five boards in the half. Penn State came out with energy on the offensive glass grabbing three rebounds and possessing the ball for nearly two minutes before a Cornley bucket on their third possession.

Baylor led 9-7 after three-straight threes to start their scoring. A Danny Morrissey three put the Lions ahead 13-11 with 11:37 to play. A Jerrells three put Baylor back on top 14-13, but Penn State answered with a nice dish from Jeff Brooks to Andrew Jones for a dunk.

A tough hook shot from Rogers put Baylor up 20-19 and started an 8-1 Baylor run that built the largest lead of the half at 26-20. Penn State played from behind the rest of the half. David Jackson scored five straight for the Lions hitting a free throw, a 17-foot jumper and a lay-up on a nice cut to bring the Lions within one, 26-25.

Carter hit the second of his two threes in the half in the closing seconds for the 29-25 halftime Baylor margin.

The victory concludes the Lions longest season in history. Penn State played a record 38 games and started the season in August with a four-game exhibition tour in Toronto, Canada. A season that spanned 10 months saw the program's first games ever in August become book ended by Penn State's first ever game in April which was made possible by a program record tying six wins in the month of March.

For photos from fans on the trip, visit online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010