DES MOINES, Iowa — With 10-seed Penn State back in the big dance for the first time since 2011, the Nittany Lions announced their presence on the national stage with a bang.
The blue and white stamped itself into the history books following its 74-56 win over seven-seed Texas A&M, picking up the programs first NCAA Tournament win since the 2001 season.
Penn State won its first-ever game against the Aggies, ending a 0-4 drought and downing Buzz Williams’ club which won 25 games and finished second in the SEC Tournament. As the Nittany Lions upset a dominant Texas A&M team, the blue and white made 13 3-pointers, breaking the record for most 3-pointers by a Big Ten team in a single season.
In the Nittany Lions 10th ever appearance in the tournament, the blue and white cashed in on a pair of dominant performances from fifth-year guards Andrew Funk and Jalen Pickett as the former scored a Penn State career high 27 points 8-for-10 shooting from 3-point range and the latter posted 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
With a battle with two-seed Texas set for Saturday, Penn State’s defense stifled the Aggies who can score among the nations elite. Despite Texas A&M ranking first in the country in free throws made, the Aggies leading scorers Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford were held in check all night.
The supporting cast of Nittany Lions also showed out under the brightest lights of Wells Fargo Arena as freshman forward Kebba Njie and senior forward Seth Lundy tallied 10 and eight points, respectively.
As Penn State led for 33:16 of the contest and as Funk broke Jesse Arnelle’s record for most points in a NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions shot 48.2% from the field and an untouchable 13-22 mark from 3-point land, making the Aggies pay when they didn’t account for shooters in transition.
In the early stages of the first half, the Nittany Lions and Aggies were locked in a physical back-and-forth as a pair of 3-pointers from Funk matched a strong start by forward Julius Marble who put Texas A&M ahead 12-11 with 11:56 left in the first half.
With stingy and effective pick-and-roll defense that created turnovers, Penn State generated an 8-0 scoring run which was spearheaded by quality shots by Pickett and Lundy. With 6:50 to play in the first half, the blue and white held an 18-15 lead.
As Funk continued to light it up from beyond the arc, fifth-year forward Myles Dread joined in on the 3-pointer parade, guiding Penn State to a blitzing 9-0 scoring run while capitalizing on six out of seven made shots to take a 31-20 advantage with 2:25 remaining.
The Nittany Lions closed the half by making eight of their last 10 shots and forcing the Aggies to a field goal drought of over three and a half minutes. Heading into the locker room, Penn State held a 38-22 lead as 15 points from Funk led all scorers.
Coming out of the locker room, the story remained the same as Pickett continued to slice and dice the Aggies defense, finding open shooters like Funk and Lundy who cashed in from beyond the arc, putting Penn State ahead by 20 with 15:35 left in the second half.
Funk’s dominance continued throughout the middle stages of the second half, shooting from anywhere on the floor, including the midcourt logo. With 11:46 remaining, Penn State took its largest lead of the contest, raging ahead of the Aggies to take a 59-36 lead.
With under seven minutes to play, Penn State continued to push the envelope, jumping out to a 69-46 advantage as Pickett poured in his lone 3-pointer of the contest.
Penn State closed out the final minutes strong, breaking history and winning its first tournament game in 22 years.
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