When it was announced during CBS’ Selection Show this past Sunday that Penn State and Texas A&M would play each other in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Jay Wright immediately called it one of the best opening round matchups. Meanwhile, Charles Barkley suggested that the SEC was superior and that A&M would thrash PSU in a blowout fashion, during the pre-game show leading into tonight’s contest.
For the first half at least, the game was every bit the back-and-forth contest many (including Coach Wright himself) anticipated in the early going, with six lead changes in the early-going. However, contrary to Chuck’s prediction, PSU was able to take control courtesy of a 13-3 run over seven-and-a-half minutes that included holding A&M to a five-plus minute scoring drought, and a bevy of treys from Andrew Funk, who knocked down four of them in the first half.
The hot shooting for PSU continued while the Aggies remained cold through the rest of the first half (A&M shot 32 percent for the half compared to PSU’s 54 percent), as PSU’s lead shot to as high as 18 before taking a 38-22 lead into the locker room. Of course, with the second half collapse against Rutgers still fresh in a lot of fans’ minds, as well as knowing how good and capable this Aggies squad was, it was not a lead to be taken for granted.
There would be no repeat debacle: The second half opened with PSU picking up where they left off, with Pickett feeding a cutting Kebba Njie for an easy two-handed slam. Funk continued his unconscious three-point shooting (with Seth Lundy and Myles Dread knocking a few down themselves), while Jalen Pickett was his usual scoring, dime-dropping, rebounding self (Pickett finished with 19 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds). A&M never got any closer than within 15 points, while PSU got their lead up to as high as 24 in what ended up being a rather comfortable win.
With this win, Penn State earned their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001, back when the Crispin Brothers lit up the nets en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Player of the Game - Andrew Funk (27 points, 8-for-10 3 PT FG)
Penn State shot a sizzling 13-for-20 from downtown, and Mr. Funk was a huge reason why. We saw the absolute best of him tonight, as he nailed shots that reminded me of long-range treys I made from the grassy part of my front yard shooting at my driveway hoop. I hope he saved some of that for Texas on Saturday!
In the meantime, here’s a nice little compilation to forever remember this night by:
I will watch this video of funk's 8 threes at least 84 times before I fall asleep tonight, thanks for asking pic.twitter.com/QGEy5vofzL— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) March 17, 2023
Chuck’s “Mea Culpa” - It wasn’t during the halftime show for PSU’s game, but rather for a different halftime, when the Greg Gumbel-hosted studio show checked in on the PSU-A&M game, Barkley admitted that it looked like he was going to be “100 percent wrong” on his projection. It’s okay Chuck, we still love you...
Let’s Talk Turnovers - PSU forced seven Aggie turnovers in the first half, which they scored 11 points off of. This allowed the Lions to build their double-digit lead going into halftime. A&M only turned it over three times in the second half but the damage had already been done by then.
Party Like It’s 2001? - Going into this tournament I felt vibes from this team that reminded me a lot of that 2001 Sweet 16 squad. A veteran, battle-tested bunch replete with excellent perimeter shooting. Wouldn’t you know it, they are one win away from replicating that magical 2001 Big Dance appearance...
The Nittany Lions (23-13) will face the No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns in the second round, in what will be the very first meeting between the two schools on the hardwood. Texas took care of Colgate without too much trouble in their first round matchup with a decisive 81-61 victory. The game is slated to tip off Saturday at 7:45 PM EST on CBS.