Penn St. comes back against Baylor to win NIT title
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis met with his team a couple of hours before playing Baylor in the NIT title game and had only one request.
"Give me everything you have," he said. "If it's good enough, it's good enough; if it's not, it's not. Just leave it all on the floor."
The Nittany Lions certainly did. And it was plenty.
Jamelle Cornley scored 18 points and the scrappy Nittany Lions, chasing every loose ball and hustling for every rebound, outlasted the Bears 69-63 on Thursday night to win only the second postseason tournament title in school history.
Talor Battle added 12 points, all in the second half, for the Nittany Lions (27-11), who were spurred on by raucous chants of "We are ... Penn State," led by none other than Joe Paterno, the 82-year-old football coach sitting about four rows behind the team's bench.
"You don't know what it's going to be like when you go into it," said Cornley, the tournament's most valuable player. "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."
The only other postseason tournament Penn State had won was the Atlantic 10 in 1991.
It was a physical game, and both teams spent most of the night scrambling for every ball in sight. Penn State guard Danny Morrissey was trying to corral a loose one near the scorer's table with about 2 1/2 minutes to go and the Nittany Lions leading 57-48 when he slammed his head into the floor, laying motionless on the sideline for a few moments.
Trainers hurried over and tended to the senior, who had a cut above his lip but eventually walked off the floor on his own.
"We have tough kids. We're going to go compete. That's been our trademark all year," DeChellis said. "That play typifies what our team has been like all year."
The Bears trailed 62-50 after Stanley Pringle made a pair of free throws with under 2 minutes left, but they did their best to rally. Tweety Carter's 3-pointer made it 62-55 with just over a minute to go, and he made another with 16.8 seconds left to get within 68-63.
Baylor simply ran out of time.
Battle hit one of two foul shots, and Curtis Jerrells air-balled a 3-point attempt to set off a jubilant celebration in one end of Madison Square Garden, where some 36 busloads of white-clad fans made it look like the end zone of Beaver Stadium on a fall Saturday.
"Penn State had a great following, a great crowd, and they're the ones who hit big shots and won the game," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "As a coach you never feel bad about that, when a team plays great and wins the game."
LaceDarius Dunn scored 18 points to lead Baylor (24-15), which hadn't won a postseason game since 1950 before its run to the NIT final. Jerrells added 14 points, and Carter and Kevin Rogers had 12 points each.
Baylor controlled the game in the first half, using a 2-3 zone to slow the tempo to a plodding walk, and took its biggest lead at 26-20 with about 3 minutes left. Penn State closed the gap before Carter's 3-pointer with a few seconds to go made it 29-25 at the break.
As halftime was drawing to a close, JoePa was shown on the video screens over midcourt, pumping his fist and leading a chorus of chants.
The energized Nittany Lions roared out of the locker room, with Cornley scoring a pair of hard buckets inside, just like a fullback powering through the line.
As the momentum began to turn, Drew got the ire of one of the officials after staring him down following a foul. When the young coach threw his jacket behind his team's bench, he earned a quick technical foul that only gave Penn State some more juice.
"I shouldn't have done that, but I had an itch in my coat and I threw it," Drew said, smiling afterward. "I apologized to the guys because I shouldn't have done that."
Drew went on to express his affection for a remarkable senior class - Jerrells, Rogers and teammates Henry Dugat and Mamadou Diene - who helped turn around a program that was still reeling from the shooting death of a player and numerous NCAA violations.
They walked off the court for the last time having remade Baylor into a team capable of playing with the best, and now the question becomes whether the school can sustain the success. And that has everything to do with Drew, who has been linked to a number of openings, most notably Memphis.
"It'd take me a half-hour to go over all the firsts, but as a coach I'm very proud of what they've overcome," Drew said, without addressing his coaching future. "They'll be able to walk tall."