NEW YORK -- The Madison Square Garden baseline reads "College basketball's beginning..." Fitting words for a group that just finished ushering in a new era of Penn State basketball.
A six-month, 38-game season culminated with the program's first postseason tournament championship Thursday night in New York, as Penn State defeated Baylor 69-63 to capture the National Invitation Tournament crown in front 2,000-plus Penn State students clad in white.
"This moment right here is one of the best moments I've ever had in my entire life," senior forward Jamelle Cornley said with moist eyes. "When I first came here we could not get three or four buses to go across campus with us. To have close to 30 buses come here and support us with JoePa and Franco Harris and everybody here in Madison Square Garden support us, I'm just excited."
Cornley took scissors and cut down a net for the first time since an Ohio state basketball title eight years ago.
Senior guard Danny Morrissey hadn't won a championship since eighth grade.
Thursday night bookended four seniors' careers with the program's highest win total ever, leaving few to wonder what new heights the program has attained.
The first five years of Penn State coach Ed DeChellis' tenure was, for the most part, marked with dread.
"Oh, it's changed," senior guard Stanley Pringle said. "Just the players, the mindset of everybody. This year everybody wanted to step up and put in the extra work. It shows by this win."
Morrissey, with his NIT champion T-shirt thrown on top of his uniform, didn't hesitate to say he helped make basketball relevant in State College.
When he came into the program, his goal was to leave it better than how he found it.
"It's safe to say we've done that," Morrissey said with a bloody lip.
All of what transpired Thursday night was in the making since August. After the game, DeChellis reminded the group what it had built toward.
"Our first meeting, I said I'm going to be a pain in the neck to you 364 days a year," DeChellis said. "Hopefully, the 365th day you understand why and hopefully that's the day we can cut down the nets and win a championship."
Earlier at a pregame meal, DeChellis had another message for his squad.
"Don't be denied," he told them. "All I ask is one thing, and that's just to give me everything you have."
Nearly fifty-five minutes after tip-off, DeChellis' players had delivered.
Battle chased down an outlet pass, scampered away from Baylor's Curtis Jerrells and flung the ball up. He and Cornley embraced near midcourt, cameras itching to get a final shot of the two sharing a basketball court.
Standing feet from a ladder where the players and coaches cut down a string of the net, Battle held his up and laughed, saying he got the biggest one he could.
"I helped them win a championship," Battle said of sending the senior class out on top. "This will last a lifetime."
While Thursday had the feel of a storybook ending for Cornley and the team, Battle knows it's just one more step toward bigger and better things.
"This is just the start," Battle said. "Hopefully it's continued success for the rest of the years I'm here and down the line. We don't want this to be a one-year thing. We want this to turn this into a program."