Penn State downs Florida in NIT

March 25, 2009 4:19:30 AM PDT
Florida coach Billy Donovan loved watching Jamelle Cornley play in high school. He loved watching him in college, too.

Seeing Cornley manhandle his Gators wasn't nearly as enjoyable.

Even with an injured shoulder, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound senior was too much for Florida. Cornley had 23 points and 12 rebounds, Stanley Pringle added 15 points and Penn State beat the short-handed Gators 71-62 Tuesday night in the NIT quarterfinals.

"He is a phenomenal, phenomenal competitor. Phenomenal," Donovan said. "I say this with all respect: He is a nasty competitor. I love watching him on film. I didn't love watching him play against our guys. But he is a nasty, tough competitor, and I say that with great respect."

The Nittany Lions (25-11) improved to 5-0 in the NIT quarterfinals and advanced to play either Kentucky or Notre Dame in New York's Madison Square Garden next week.

The Gators used a late run to cut the lead to 61-59, but Penn State turned to Cornley down the stretch. The 6-foot-5 senior backed down Dan Werner for a basket, then got a key rebound on the other end.

"Any time you're in a national tournament, you want to put on your best performance," Cornley said.

Nick Calathes, who struggled all night shooting, missed two 3-pointers in the final minutes for Florida (25-11). He finished with 10 points and seven assists.

Erving Walker led the Gators with 16 points and made four of the team's five 3-pointers. Alex Tyus had 15 points.

Penn State, especially Pringle, was considerably better from behind the arc. The Nittany Lions were 8-of-25 from 3-point range, with Pringle hitting five of them.

"We found some guys wide open and knocked down some shots," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said.

David Jackson added 14 points for Penn State, and Talor Battle chipped in 13.

Jackson hit a turnaround jumper with 1 second on the shot clock to make it 65-59 with a minute to play, then Battle sealed the victory with four free throws in the final 28 seconds.

Cornley, though, was the biggest reason the Nittany Lions won.

Cornley partially separated his left shoulder in a first-round win last week and missed the team's last game. He had his shoulder heavily wrapped against Florida, but it did little to slow him down. He dominated inside and finished 11-of-14 shooting.

"His arms are so big and stuff, I was just trying to stand my ground," Werner said. "He's huge. He made tough plays and tough shots. He's a good player."

Florida had few bodies to defend him. The Gators played without center Kenny Kadji, who sustained a concussion in practice Monday and was not cleared to play. Without him, the Gators were left with Tyus and seldom-used freshman Eloy Vargas at center.

Making Florida even thinner in the frontcourt, Donovan suspended backup center Allan Chaney last week for the remainder of the season.

Although Cornley dominated Florida inside in the first half, the Gators opened up a 32-25 lead just before the break. Walker hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, Werner tipped in a missed shot and then Walker hit another one from behind the arc to put Florida up 30-25. Calathes made it a seven-point game with a layup with 4:22 remaining, but the Gators didn't score again in the opening 20 minutes.

Penn State, which got 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting from Cornley early on, scored the final eight points of the half. Jackson had a tip-in, then Pringle hit back-to-back 3s to give the Nittany Lions a one-point lead at the break.

Cornley and Jackson were a combined 9-of-12 from the floor in the first half, giving Penn State a strong inside presence, but Penn State took control with more 3s.

Pringle hit two more early in the second half, with his second one putting the Nittany Lions ahead 52-43 with about 11 minutes to play. They held on from there, thanks mostly to Cornley.

"He was a very, very difficult matchup for us," Donovan said. "It's just not the scoring. It's the things that he does that impacts winning. Tonight, it just happened to be scoring."

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