And PSU guard Talor Battle had one message for his coach after hitting the spectacular game-winning shot with less than a second remaining.
I told you so, he yelled to sixth-year Nittany Lion mentor Ed DeChellis. Battle had to shout. The crowd of 13,091, which stayed behind Penn State even as it trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half, became louder and louder during the comeback before erupting into an ear-splitting crescendo after Battle's big shot.
Those guys kept us in there all the way, Battle said.
And Penn State kept itself squarely in contention for its first NCAA bid since 2001, improving to 21-9 overall and 10-7 in the Big Ten with the victory. With a win at Iowa Saturday, the Lions could finish as high as second in the final league regular-season standings.
They did it by overcoming a 60-50 deficit with 5:14 remaining. And a 61-55 deficit with 3:52 showing. And a 63-57 deficit at the 2:14 mark.
But even after guard Stanley Pringle bombed in a triple and forward D.J. Jackson hit both ends of a one and one to tighten it to 63-62 with less than a minute to go, Penn State appeared to be in a tough spot.
With the ball and a chance to win on a final shot, Battle drove off a high screen but was stripped by Chester Frazier. During a timeout, Battle apologized to his teammates for the error and promised DeChellis he would make up for it.
I said, 'I'm with you. We have to make some plays, though,' DeChellis recalled.
Following the timeout, Illinois inbounded to Mike Davis, who was immediately fouled. With the crowd going nuts, he bricked the front end of the one-and-one with 8.4 seconds left.
Jamelle Cornley rebounded for PSU and passed to Battle. The speedy guard took up off the floor with the clock winding down. He literally drove past every member of the Illini defense, threw the shot high off the backboard, and watched as it danced about the rim.
It was up there for a while, DeChellis said.
I said, come on, fall, Pringle added.
Battle, though, was not worried.
When you shoot the basketball, you know it is going in before anyone else does, he said with a smile.
And after what seemed like minutes, it did just that, falling through with .3 seconds showing. The building erupted. Battle ran to DeChellis with his quick message before sprinting to the other end of the floor in jubilation.
Battle's shot took forever to fall.
Following a timeout, Illinois' long inbound pass did not find its target and time expired. The PSU students, many of whom had to make their way down from the upper deck, stormed the floor, turning the court into a giant mosh pit.
Battle said he was bumped around in the mass of bodies before quickly making an escape. He finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists. Despite going 5 of 17 from the floor, he hit the shot that mattered most.
Pringle was key for the Lions all night, hitting 8 of 11 shots for a game-high 20 points on his 22nd birthday. He was 4 of 4 from the arc.
Afterward, DeChellis praised his team for being resilient. He also made a case that the Lions have already done what they need to do to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
We're 10-7 in the league, we've won 21 games, he said. I don't know what else people want. But we're going to try to give them one more.
With the game against Iowa less than 48 hours away, Pringle said he was not going to party on his birthday. And that's just as well. This team has other celebration plans in mind.
Hopefully, we'll be dancing (soon), Battle said.
The fans rushed the floor.