So did anyone happen to catch the NIT match-up between No. 1 seed Florida and my alma mater, 2 seed Penn State? I know Black Shoes Diaries did:
This team doesn't know when to quit. They don't understand that they are supposed to be slow and nonathletic. They don't understand they are hurt and tired. They don't understand that Penn State basketball was supposed to end their season two months ago so as not to take attention away from spring practice in football. They don't understand that they aren't supposed to go into Florida and beat the team that won back-to-back national championships a few years ago by nine points. They don't understand that when you choke a ten point lead away into a two point lead in the final minutes in a hostile environment you are supposed to roll over and die.
But this team does understand two things. They understand that nobody believes in them, and they understand that they hate to lose.
And one man in particular wasn't prepared to lose, wasn't prepared to end his collegiate basketball career.
Last night, Jamelle Cornley was a certifiable beast. 23 points. 12 rebounds. 11 of 14 from the field. And a steal and two assists for good measure. In Florida. Against the Gators.
Sure, it's just the NIT, and no one really remembers who wins the damn thing, but as my roommate said last night, only two teams get to call themselves champions at the end of the year. Penn State has a chance to be one of them.
That's pretty impressive no matter how you slice it. Sure, the goal is to get to the big dance, but for Penn State, a program that has been virtually nonexistent save for a rare tournament appearance here and there, it's big. The team gets notoriety, recognition and, more importantly for a team as young as the Nittany Lions, confidence. With sophomore stud Talor Battle, fellow sophomores David Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones, not to mention talented freshman Chris Babb, gaining this experience, there's reason for optimism in Happy Valley.
But last night was about the seniors: Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle, and yes, even Danny Morrissey. Pringle didn't have his best game, but he scored 15 points on five three pointers — all of them big — and added 5 boards, 4 assists and even a block. Morrissey, for a player who has tremendous inadequacies and seemingly has overstayed his welcome at Penn State, did make a key three in the game and didn't fuck things up.
But it was Cornley who stole the show.
Plain and simple, the Gators had absolutely no answer for the man who looks a lot more like a football player than a basketball player. But make no mistake about it, Jamelle Cornley can ball. He's a beast inside, a strong rebounder and a player who has extended his range each and every year. He's a warrior, as last night showed, playing with an injured left shoulder, and he really is the leader on Penn State's young squad.
It's really a shame the 6'5" 240-pounder doesn't have another 4 or 5 or 6 inches of height or so, because if he did, there's a good chance he'd be playing in the NBA some day. He has that type of game. But then again, if he was 6'10" or 6'11", he probably wouldn't be at Penn State.
No matter. What matters is that Jamelle Cornley, disappointed by his failure to reach an NCAA Tournament during his four years at Penn State, simply isn't ready to be finished. He could have put his down and not shown up. Hell, he could have used the injury as an excuse to call it quits. But that's the type of player, the type of person Jamelle Cornley is. He wants to keep playing. He wants to go out a winner. Because after three long season of losing, Jamelle Cornley and his teammates "understand that they hate to lose."