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March 5, 2009
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; March 5, 2009 - With Penn State's NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance and a roaring crowd of more than 13,000 on its feet, Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Talor Battle (Albany, N.Y.) drove to the basket and flipped a shot high off the glass that bounced tantalizingly on the rim before falling through with 0.3 seconds to play to give Penn State a huge, 64-63, victory over No. 23 Illinois Thursday in the Bryce Jordan Center.
"Talor made a play and we win the game, and sometimes that's what the game is about," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "Sometimes it's making a shot, making a play, making a free throw. It was a great basketball game. I thought Illinois played really, really well."
Penn State trailed for 36 minutes prior to the shot and by 10 with 5:11 to play before a furious 14-3 rally in which five players scored to close the game. The victory marked a program record 15th home win of the season and improved the Lions to 21-9 on the year and 10-7 in the Big Ten. Penn State equaled its best-ever regular season win total and posted its second most Big Ten wins ever behind a 12-6 season in 1995-96. With a victory at Iowa on Saturday and a Purdue loss at Michigan State, the Nittany Lions can clinch a best-ever No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
"I think this was a very important game for us," DeChellis said. "The crowd was great, the students were unbelievable. This is what we've built for, for six years. We've got some kids who have done that and have gotten excited. The students and fans were unbelievable tonight and my hat's off to them."
The victory was Penn State's fourth against a Top 25 team on the season and the Lions sixth win over and RPI Top 50 team. Penn State has now won 12 of its last 14 Big Ten home games, four of those against ranked opponents.
Stanley Pringle (Virginia Beach, Va.) led Penn State with 20 points going a stellar 8-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-4 from three on his 22nd birthday. Battle had 15 points, six boards and four assists in 38 minutes of action.
The Lions completed their second-straight regular-season sweep of Illinois which fell to 23-8 on the year and 11-7 in the Big Ten. The Illini were led by 16 points and seven assists from Demetri McCamey and 12 points and three blocks from Mike Tisdale. Chester Frazier added 11 points as he and McCamey both downed three treys.
A Calvin Brock tip-in with 5:11 to play gave Illinois a 60-50 lead, but senior Danny Morrissey (Cleveland, Ohio) was fouled shooting a three on Penn State's next possession and buried all three free throws to cut the lead to seven. McCamey hit one of two at the line for Illinois before Pringle buried a 16-foot jumper to get the Lions within six, 61-55.
A Dominique Keller offensive rebound and put back with 3:51 to play gave Illinois a 63-55 lead. From there, the Lions began a magnificent 9-0 run to finish the game.
Battle was fouled by the Illini's Mike Davis and made two free throws. Following several empty possessions for both teams and a missed front end of a one-and-one by Frazier, Pringle brought the crowd to deafening roar with a three pointer that cut the lead to three, 63-60, with 1:49 to play.
Sophomore David Jackson (Farrell, Pa.) grabbed a crucial rebound off a Battle missed three-pointer and was fouled by Trent Meacham. Jackson made both free throws and the Nittany Lions trailed, 63-62. Meachem missed a jumper and Jackson pulled the board giving Penn State the ball with 26 seconds to play.
However, Battle was stripped trying to split a pair of Illini defenders and Frazier came up with the ball out of scramble and called timeout. On the inbound, Jackson fouled Mike Davis immediately with eight seconds remaining.
Davis missed the front end of the one and one and senior standout Jamelle Cornley (Columbus, Ohio), who left the game earlier in the half with a dislocated shoulder, grabbed the rebound and flipped it to Battle who took it coast-to-coast for the game-winner.
"We've been resilient all year," DeChellis said. "They're a resilient team. They've got some toughness, they've got some heart, they're never going to quit. The clock might run out on us, maybe we won't have enough time, but they're always going to fight until the end. They're going to find a way to win."
Illinois finished the last 3:51 of the game going 0-4 from the field and 0-2 at the free throw line.
Penn State trailed 34-32 at the half after the both teams shot over 52 percent for the half. The Illini led by as many as 10 in the first half as they made huge baskets at the end of shot clocks and got a big eight first half points from Frazier. A Tisdale bucket with 9:07 to play put the Illini up 23-13 and capped a 16-5 run.
A pair of buckets from Morrissey, one a three, got the Lions back within five. Illinois built the lead back to seven on a Keller jumper, but Penn State scored five straight on a Pringle three and a Battle lay-up to get within two, 31-29. McCamey hit a big three to put the Illini back up five, but Pringle answered with a jumper and Cornley was fouled with 0.2 to play and hit one of two to trail by two at the half.
The Illini held a comfortable cushion until Cornley and Andrew Jones hit a pair of buckets to get Penn State within one, 41-40, with 14:15 to play. Cornley got a steal on the next possession and Penn State had a chance to take the lead, but turned the ball over.
Illinois rebuilt its lead to seven with an 8-2 run capped by a Brock jumper and led 49-42 with 9:40 to play. A Battle jumper and Pringle three quickly cut the lead to two, but Tisdale hit a nice jumper and Mike Davis got a dunk to extend the lead back to six.
Pringle answered with a three and the Lions trailed 53-50 with 7:24 to play. Illinois went back to Tisdale who hit a jump hook from the baseline to spark a 7-0 run that put the Illini up 10 and set up the final five minutes.
The Nittany Lions will try to get a little rest Thursday night before boarding a plane Friday morning to head to Iowa. Penn State will take on the Hawkeyes (14-16; 4-13 Big Ten) at 2:00 p.m. (ET) Saturday, less than 40 hours after completing Thursday's emotional victory. The game can be seen live on the Big Ten Network.