Jamelle Cornley drew a long breath, crouched over with his hands on his knees and walked tenderly off the court, aided by a pair of men in suits.
While the rest of the Penn State men's basketball team leapt in the air and rushed to embrace by its bench, Cornley remained stoic, content with the knowledge that his workmanlike second half performance -- 18 points and five rebounds -- propelled the Nittany Lions past Iowa, 65-64.
Forward D.J. Jackson hit the free throw that ultimately won the game for Penn State, but it was Cornley, still hobbled by a laundry list of injuries accumulated throughout the season, who carried the Lions' comeback.
"He was a beast. He was a monster out there," Jackson said of Cornley. "He pretty much did what he wanted to today. He played with heart and effort and that's how he is on a regular basis."
It was Cornley's performance beneath the basket that overcame Iowa team that was doing most of its work far away from it.
The Hawkeyes hit 12 3-pointers in the game, connecting on 54.5 percent from beyond the arc. Four of those came in the first 3:36 of the second half, as part of a 15-2 run that would seemingly bury the Lions.
But Penn State's resiliency stemmed from the play of its leader. Cornley demanded the ball in the low post, backing down defenders and taking on as many as four Hawkeyes at a time. He also showed touch on some mid-range jumpers to complement his bruising play in the paint.
"When you get in a groove, you just feel like no one can guard you," Cornley said. "I just wanted to step up for the team and do whatever I had to do and tonight it was some scoring down low."
Cornley said that during a game, he doesn't even think about pain. Not from the bone bruise in his left knee, the popped blood vessel in his right eye, his twisted ankle or his chipped front teeth. He's been playing through pain all year, but it all goes away when he steps onto the hardwood.
Iowa coach Todd Lickliter used one word to describe the difference between his team's play and Penn State's: toughness. Cornley exemplified that trait in the second half, playing all 20 minutes and making his presence felt with each tick of the clock.
When Lickliter coached at Butler, he recruited Cornley heavily. Last night, he regretted not being able to land the standout forward.
"I wish I would have gotten him while I was there so I wouldn't have to see him now," Lickliter said. "I admire him. I like the way he goes at it."
Cornley said moments such as last night, when the team is relying on him to pull it along, are what he always yearns for. He is the undoubted emotional leader, but with Geary Claxton out for the season, Cornley has had to assume an even greater role on the court.
He said he thrives in the pressure situations and feeds off the intensity of the moment.
"This is the position I've been wanting to be in for the entire time I've been here," Cornley said. "I've wanted the weight on my shoulders. Every time I feel as if the weight is on my shoulders it brings out the best in Jamelle Cornley."