STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Talor Battle looked like a sprinter as he dribbled up the court with the clock winding down and his team down one point.
Faced with a wall of Illinois defenders once he got near the paint, the 5-foot-11 guard threw up an off-balance shot that bounced off the rim a couple of times before finally dropping through with 0.3 seconds left.
Penn State's furious comeback from a 10-point deficit with 5 minutes left was nearly complete. Illinois flubbed a desperation heave and Nittany Lion fans stormed the court after a 64-63 victory over the 23rd-ranked Illini on Thursday night.
This win will look good on the Nittany Lions' NCAA tournament resume.
"Even though it was bouncing, I knew it was so soft that it was just going to stay in," Battle said. "Then I ran around like a lunatic."
Stanley Pringle had 20 points on his 22nd birthday to lead Penn State (21-9, 10-7 Big Ten), which reached 21 wins for the first time since 2000-01 -- the last time they made the NCAAs.
"We had the lead, we had our chances and they made this spectacular comeback," Illini coach Bruce Weber said.
Still, Illinois seems a virtual lock for the NCAAs.
Calvin Brock added nine points for the Illini, part of a bevy of guards who frustrated Penn State much of the game.
The Illini's Mike Davis, a 70 percent free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 8 seconds left.
Jamelle Cornley corralled the rebound and handed off to Battle, who streaked furiously up court and threw up the shot that bounced tantalizingly off the rim before dropping in.
"It would have been better if he just swished it, and we would have had a little more time," Weber said.
Battle finished with 15 points, and the 13,000-plus fans who packed the Jordan Center roared with approval after a tense game that appeared to be out of reach with 5:11 left and Illinois up 60-50.
Penn State closed to 63-62 with 58 seconds left behind a 3 from Pringle and two free throws by David Jackson.
Trent Meachem missed a runner, but Battle lost the ball on the dribble on the ensuing possession with 9.5 seconds left.
Jackson fouled Davis, who missed his free throw to set up Battle's dramatic last-second shot.
"Man, I was somewhere at half court just looking, waiting for the ball to fall," Pringle said. "I was like, 'Come on, fall in that hole."
Tisdale and Davis combined for 19 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 12 rebounds for the Illini.
Illinois goes into next week's conference tournament having lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
It was a veritable run-and-gun affair for the teams, two weeks after Penn State won 38-33 at Illinois in the lowest-scoring Division I game in three seasons. The Illini had already scored more points by halftime on Thursday night, leading 34-32.
An uncharacteristically vociferous crowd packed the arena -- most wearing white -- to cheer on the Nittany Lions in their home finale.
Penn State is making noise in Happy Valley with its best season in years, and even the football team is getting into it. Football coach Joe Paterno gave the basketball team a pep talk on Wednesday, and quarterback Daryll Clark took a microphone and riled up the crowd with a rousing pregame speech on Thursday.
Penn State faces another critical test Saturday with the regular-season finale at Iowa.
But preparation for the Hawkeyes is on hold briefly. Most of the chatter Thursday night was about Battle's last shot.
"Things kind of fell right with us," coach Ed DeChellis said. "It was up there for a while, wasn't it? We practiced that shot."