Andrew Funk drilled a career-best eight 3-pointers while scoring a game-high 27 points and Jalen Pickett added 19 points to boost Penn State to a 76-59 victory against Texas A&M on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament Midwest Region first-round game in Des Moines, Iowa.
No. 10 Penn State shot 48.2 percent from the floor while making 13 of 22 attempts from 3-point range. The seventh-seeded Aggies were as cold as the Nittany Lions were hot, struggling to a 33.9-percent effort from the field, including a 7-for-23 showing from deep.
The Nittany Lions, who are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, are set to face second-seeded Texas in a second-round game on Saturday. Thursday marked the program’s first tournament victory since 2001.
Penn State (23-13) won for the sixth time in seven games and will prepare to face a Texas team that enters on a six-game winning streak. The Longhorns cruised past Colgate 81-61 in their first-round game.
“I know that we’re in for another battle,” Funk said of Texas. “Them obviously being a 2 seed in our region, they’re going to be really tough.”
Pickett also is eager for the challenge.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “We’ve got another one coming up.”
Poised to regroup from a lopsided loss to Alabama in Sunday’s SEC tournament championship game, the Aggies sputtered, never leading after taking a 12-11 advantage in the opening minutes and trailing by as many as 26 points.
The Aggies (25-10) closed the season with their first pair of successive losses since Dec. 17-20. Dexter Dennis (19 points) Tyrece Radford (14) and Wade Taylor IV (10) scored in double figures for Texas A&M. Andersson Garcia grabbed a game-high nine rebounds, helping the Aggies to a 36-32 advantage on the boards.
Seth Lundy scored 10 points for the Nittany Lions. Pickett had seven rebounds to go with eight assists.
Penn State surged ahead by as many as 18 points in the first half en route to taking a 38-22 lead into the break. The Nittany Lions shot a scorching 54.2 percent from the field while swishing 6-of-9 attempts from long range.
Funk set the tone, going 4-for-5 from deep while making each of his three free throws to lead all scorers with 15 first-half points. Pickett had nine points and six assists.
–Field Level Media