NEW YORK -- At the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden, all eyes were on Joe Paterno. The football legend might have been the MVP of Penn State's first national title win of any kind in basketball.
After a messy first half that featured a run of five airballs, turnovers and atrocious shooting, Paterno's face on the JumboTron sparked such a frenzy from the 33 buses-worth of Penn State fans that the floor in the Garden shook.
"I think Coach said it best yesterday -- we couldn't get three buses to go across campus [in previous years]," Penn State senior Jamelle Cornley said. "Now 30 buses come to see us at Madison Square Garden."
Once Paterno had done his part, Cornley took over. Cornley had last cut down a net as a 14-year old freshman at Brookhaven High in Columbus, and he took full advantage of his final chance as a collegian on Thursday, muscling his way to 18 points and seven rebounds to lead Penn State to a 69-63 win over Baylor.
"We were able to battle with them," said Baylor senior Curtis Jerrells, who had 14 points in his last game as one of the seniors who brought Baylor back from one worst scandals in NCAA history. "But that guy Cornley is a pretty big dude, and he played his tail off tonight and you've got to tip your hat to him."
Cornley's greatest strength as an undersized big man at 6-foot-5 is his ability to take opponents out of their games. Against Notre Dame, Cornley sent Luke Harangody whining to the referees, telling reporters after he just wanted to test the big man. Against Baylor, he set the tone for what turned out to be a physical game, complete with two technical fouls (one on Cornley himself).
When asked by a reporter if it was a more physical game than his team was used to playing, Drew smiled, shook his head and said "Yeah. I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to get in trouble."
"I'm a competitor, I just really want to leave a statement," Cornley said. "I want you to leave knowing you played against Jamelle Cornley."
And in front of 10,325 spectators, he added to his Penn State legacy by earning the Most Outstanding Player Award. The undersized forward played big in his final game despite taking shots to his ace-bandaged shoulder, and it was clear Baylor would not forget playing against No. 2 on this night.
"I think I cried off and on for the last 15-20 minutes," he said in the locker room after getting teary-eyed in the press conference. "My mom was the one who was really bawling though. She said she didn't think we could draw it up any better."