Lions survive 1st-half surge to top Big Red

Nittany Lions drill 15 threes in victory

Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
Penn State's Sam Sessoms (3) drives to the basket during Monday's game against Cornell at the BJC in State College. Penn State defeated Cornell, 85-74.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Despite a strong shooting performance from the floor in the opening half by Penn State, Cornell proved to be a scrappy team that wouldn’t go away, matching the Nittany Lions bucket for bucket.

Penn State survived a 21-3 scoring run in the opening half by the Big Red over a five-minute span and negated it with the hot hand of Sam Sessoms, who drilled four 3-pointers in two minutes late in the half.

The Nittany Lions’ momentum to end the half, paired with a late surge in the second half lifted Penn State to an 85-74 victory over the Big Red in a non-conference men’s basketball contest Monday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“I didn’t feel like there was any panic when we got down,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “There is always a lot of game left to come back and we didn’t panic. We settled in to what we needed to do. We started getting better shots and then started getting some stops.”

Sessoms’ shooting stroke helped power the Lions to an 11-4 run in the final 2:41 of the first half while forward Seth Lundy had himself a night, scoring a game-high 23 points while hitting some big shots in key situations in the second half. All in all, Penn State was red hot from behind the arc, knocking down 15 threes, which tied a program record.

Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
Penn State's Jalanni White (14) scores during Monday's game against Cornell at the BJC in State College. Penn State defeated Cornell, 85-74.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but my guy (Purdue coach) Matt Painter and I talk all the time and when you see things you don’t normally see in the box score — and as I look at it, Sam Sessoms was 6-of-7 from three — as Painter would put it, that’s like seeing bigfoot at the mall,” Shrewsberry said. “But hats off to (Sessoms) he works on his game. He stays after every shoot around and gets shots off. The confidence to take (threes) is what we need from him.”

The Nittany Lions (3-1) trailed 27-17 with 13:11 left in the opening half and didn’t retake the lead until Sessoms’ fourth 3-pointer of the half with 38 seconds left put the Lions up one. Penn State carried a 41-38 advantage into the locker room.

“I was just feeling it to be honest,” Sessoms said. “When I shoot them, I make them, it’s just that I’m so confident in beating my man off the dribble. A lot of my teammates get mad because I pass up easy (threes). I started the game slow as far as shot attempts and a lot of my previous field goal attempts before this game were layups, so I have to start shooting. I saw one drop and then it’s to just keep shooting until I miss it. That was kind of what my mentality was tonight.”

Penn State weathered another Cornell run in the early minutes of the second half as Sarju Patel drilled a pair of threes as part of a 12-0 run that put the Big Red up 50-46 with 14:55 left.

Cornell (4-1) maintained a slim advantage through most of the second half including a 65-61 lead with 7:27 left to play. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Jalen Pickett after the media timeout cut the Big Red lead to one before a pair of free-throws by Cornell’s Nazir Williams stretched the Big Red lead back to three.

Pickett followed with a three, and another three from deep by Sessoms gave Penn State a 70-67 lead with 5:08 left to play. Sessoms then hit another step-back 3-pointer on the next possession as the Lions held a slim four-point lead with 4:20 left.

The Nittany Lions continued a late 3-point barrage as Myles Dread scored his first points of the game on a right-wing three to give Penn State a five-point edge. Dread’s three was the Lions’ 15th of the night.

Penn State kept Cornell off the board for the next three minutes and an emphatic block by Sessoms at the rim helped preserve the Nittany Lions’ lead. As a team, Penn State played great defense down the stretch and allowed just five points in the final five minutes.

Late free throws helped Penn State grab its largest lead of the evening at 11. The Nittany Lions closed the night outscoring Cornell 15-5 in the final five and finished on a 7-0 run.

“We don’t want to play through our offense, we want to play through our defense,” Shrewsberry said. “I felt like our defense sparked us when we needed it.”

Along with Lundy, Sessoms scored 22 points, added six rebounds and four assists while John Harrar pulled in 12 rebounds and scored seven points. Pickett also scored in double figures, adding 15 points, six assists and four boards.


The Nittany Lions will travel to Niceville, Florida, to play in the Emerald Coast Classic beginning on Friday. The Lions will face LSU on Friday and then will face either Oregon State or Wake Forest on Saturday.


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