April 2, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) -- Penn State turned the NIT championship game into a party, and several thousand Nittany Lions fans sure seemed like the hosts.
Jamelle Cornley scored 18 points and the Nittany Lions used a big second half to beat Baylor 69-63 Thursday night and win the NIT title, just the second postseason tournament championship in school history.
Super sophomore 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.
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. Senior Curtis Jerrells added 14 points and Tweety Carter and Kevin Rogers had 10 points each.
It was a physical game, and both teams spent most of the night scrambling for loose balls. Penn State guard Danny Morrissey was trying to corral 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.
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. 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.
Battle hit one of two foul shots at the other end, and Jerrells air-balled a 3-point attempt as time expired, setting off a jubilant celebration.
As the players donned T-shirts pronouncing them champions, and Cornley was announced the most outstanding player, someone tossed a shirt to Paterno and he pulled it over his head with a big smile on his face. The school said 36 busloads of fans had come from State College, Pa., and they made themselves heard.
It was a much different story in the first half, when Baylor controlled the tempo with its 2-3 zone, even though the Nittany Lions thrived all season in low-scoring games.
The Bears established their biggest advantage when Dunn and Rogers hit back-to-back baskets to make it 26-20 with about 3 minutes left in the half. Penn State closed the gap before Carter's 3-pointer with a few seconds to go made it 29-25 at the break.
But energized by their legions of fans, making one end of Madison Square Garden look like the end zone at Beaver Stadium on a fall Saturday, the Nittany Lions roared out of the locker room.
Cornley, looking like a fullback powering through the line, scored a pair of hard buckets inside and the Nittany Lions eventually went on a 16-5 run, building a 46-37 lead with 10:32 to go.
The dramatic change in momentum infuriated Baylor coach Scott Drew, who stared down one of the referees after a foul and then violently threw his jacket behind his team's bench, drawing a quick technical foul and putting his team in too deep a hole to dig out.
It was the final game of a remarkable career for Jerrells, Rogers and teammates Henry Dugat and Mamadou Diene, who arrived in Waco to help turn around a program dealing with the fallout from the shooting death of a player and numerous NCAA penalties.
They walked off the court for the last time having remade Baylor into a legitimate team capable of playing with the best.