Penn State offense pushes past Texas A&M, advances in tournament
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State got funky in the Big Dance, rolling past Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 76-59 Thursday night in Wells Fargo Arena.
An offensive explosion occurred with guards Andrew Funk and Jalen Pickett combining for 46 points. Funk went 8/10 from beyond the arc, scoring a game-high 27 points with four rebounds and Pickett chipped in 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The defense was a main catalyst in the team’s success in the first half, forcing the Aggies to turn the ball over 10 times.
The defense led to offense, and the perimeter shooting was on point, with a 59.1% clip from downtown, tying a season-high from their matchup with the Canisius Golden Griffins.
Funk started hot, going four for five in the first half. He later continued his dominant shooting in the second half to help increase a 38-22 lead after halftime.
With a focus on where Funk is on the court, it gave Pickett opportunities to work down low into the post. From there, the “booty ball” tactic showed options to take the ball to the basket or dish it out for an open look.
“It goes back to how much team basketball we played and are focused on sharing the ball with a guy like Pick that commands a lot of attention,” Funk said, “the way we’re able to play off him, we’ve been kind of doing it all year, and it came to fruition tonight.”
That made Pickett the only player to post more than 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists without turning the ball over in his 40 minutes on the court. It had Aggies coach Buzz Williams scrambling to find a way to guard the AP Second Team All-American.
“I think as talented as [Pickett] is, his best talent is he makes a decision immediately relative to how you are going to defend him,” Williams said, “that makes the other four players that are on the floor with him even better because he is an elite-level passer that when your rotation happens, whatever you’re going to do, that decision is happening now.”
Texas A&M was struggling from the floor and could not answer the call Penn State presented. The SEC runner-ups shot 33.9% from the floor, which is a season-worst for William’s team. With the Nittany Lions tallying a 48.2% clip from the field and dishing out 14 assists, they made life hard for the Aggie defense.
“We just came out and really shared the ball, and I thought we played Penn State basketball,” coach Micah Shrewsberry said, “it was hard for them to go when we moved the ball and get great shots
Penn State has now won nine of their last 11 games, with the majority of those wins occurring once the calendar flipped to March. It all stems from the veteran leadership as one of the most experienced teams in the field of 68.
The win marked the first NCAA Tournament win for Penn State since 2001, when they took down Providence 69-59. That team advanced to the Sweet 16.
“Although I wasn’t a direct fan of the team or program, I watched a lot of those guys,” Funk said, “and to be able to come here and do this with this group of guys, it’s just really special.”
Penn State will continue its magical run into the second round, where they face the No. 2-seed Texas Longhorns on Saturday at 6:45 p.m.
Jonathan Draeger is a third-year broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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