STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Cornell men’s basketball led by 10 points in the first half, but a 19-5 Penn State run in the final seven minutes shot down Big Red’s upset attempt as the Nittany Lions held on at the Bryce Jordan Center, 85-74.
“[Penn State] had a pretty good game plan against us,” Cornell coach Brian Earl said. “We’re still learning how to play like this, and they sort of retreated well and got into some of our cutting lanes and passing lanes.”
Cornell (4-1) fell behind 14-6 in the opening seven minutes to Penn State (3-1) after a three-pointer by fifth-year senior guard Jaheam Cornwall, but a 21-3 Big Red run vaulted the visitors ahead, 27-17.
The Nittany Lions slowly battled back behind 12 points each from senior guard Sam Sessoms and junior forward Seth Lundy, and took a 41-38 lead at the half on an 8-0 run. Penn State opened its lead to back up to eight just minutes into the second half, but a Cornell run sparked by a pair of three-pointers from Virginia Military Institute transfer Sarju Patel gave the Big Red a 48-46 lead with 16:06 to play. Patel led Cornell with 15 points off 5-for-11 shooting.
“The ball hasn’t gone in a much these past few weeks,” Earl said. “It was good to see those shots go in. He gets some open shots. It’s not from lack of practice, [so] it was nice to see him step [up] in a big moment and claw us back into the game.”
Cornell and Penn State continued back and forth for nearly 10 minutes, with no team taking more than a five-point lead. However, momentum shifted for the Nittany Lions after Sessoms hit one of his six three-pointers with 5:08 left to hand Penn State the lead for good.
“He only took four shots up until this game from behind the three-point line,” Earl said. “He just had a really good night. He’s a good player. We weren’t expecting as much from [behind the] three-point line.”
Sessoms scored 22 for the victorious Nittany Lions, but teammate Seth Lundy bested him with 23 points off 9-for-13 shooting.
“I’m proud of our effort today,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “This was going to be a challenge in terms of how [Cornell] played with effort and the effort we were going to need defensively to slow them down.”
Cornell shot just 37% from the field but had three players in double figures, including freshman guard Nazir Williams with 14 points off 3-for-6 shooting.
“He plays hard, which is important for us,” Earl said. “With the way we’re playing, we’re able to play a few guards. He’s helped us on the defensive end, but also has made some pretty big shots. Once the decision-making gets nailed down, it’ll be more potent.”
Sophomore guard Chris Manon scored 12 points, including the opening two field goals for the Big Red.
“He challenges the defense to make decisions off how they are going to guard him,” Earl said. “He’s been pretty good, [but we] think he can get even better.”
Penn State shot the ball 49% from the field, including 44% from deep. Cornell outrebounded the hosts, 39-38, and posted 26 points in the paint while the Nittany Lions managed just 20.
The Big Red have a short turnaround, as they’ll host Saint Francis Wednesday afternoon in a quick one-game stop at home.
“We’ve got to guard a little bit better,” Earl said. “We’ll be playing against some pretty big guys on Wednesday. [We have to] just play our game. There’s a difference between fast and smart fast, and we want to play smart fast.”