Hot-shooting Funk leads Penn State to first NCAA win since 2001
DES MOINES, Iowa - Andrew Funk had the shooting game of his career on Penn State's biggest stage in more than two decades.
Funk went 8 of 10 on 3-pointers and scored 27 points Thursday night in a 76-59 win over Texas A&M for the Nittany Lions' first NCAA Tournament victory in 22 years.
"He’s an OK shooter," Penn State star Jalen Pickett deadpanned before breaking into a wide smile. "He puts in a lot of work on his jump shot. When he gets going like that, we've got to find him."
Funk, in his first year at Penn State after transferring from Bucknell, led the 10th-seeded Nittany Lions (23-13) to their ninth victory in 11 games. They next play No. 2 seed Texas in the second round of the Midwest Region on Saturday.
"When you make that first and second one, the rim opens up a little bit for sure," Funk said. "In this offense I know I'm going to get a lot of shots from 3. You get into a rhythm, especially in a game where the offense is flowing like that."
Penn State's previous tournament win was its second-round upset of North Carolina in New Orleans in 2001. The Nittany Lions lost to Temple in the Sweet 16, and they lost to the Owls again when they returned to the tournament in 2011.
"We talked about this vision of doing this," coach Micah Shrewsberry said of the breakthrough, "and it's all coming to fruition for us. ... We want to go on a run, a ride, and we're having a blast."
Texas A&M (25-10) had won 10 of 12 as it entered its first NCAA Tournament since 2018. The seventh-seeded Aggies lost in the first round for only the second time in nine appearances since 2006.
Dexter Dennis scored 19 points to lead A&M, which shot 34%. The Aggies had battled back from a 6-5 start to the season that included a couple of bad nonconference losses. They ended up second in the Southeastern Conference and reached the league tournament title game.
"As yucky as this game was, I think we will look back at what has transpired the last 75 days with great memories," coach Buzz Williams said. "What has transpired since then has been so good. As time goes, we’ll look back at that."
Funk was 0 for 5 on 3s in the Big Ten championship game last weekend. But he made his first 3-pointer against the Aggies, missed his second, and then hit six in a row.
"I just knew he was hot," teammate Myles Dread said, "and I tried to find him as much as possible."
Funk's streak ended when he put up an air ball on a desperation 3 as the shot clock was running out.
Pickett played another strong all-around game with 19 points, eight assists, no turnovers and seven rebounds.
Penn State led 38-22 after outscoring the Aggies 28-10 to close the first half. The Aggies hadn't scored so few points in a first half since a win over Notre Dame on Nov. 24, 2021.
The Lions' offense ran just the way Shrewsberry likes it, with the threat of 6-foot-10 Kebba Jjie in the post creating space on the perimeter for Funk, Dread and Seth Lundy to do what they do best. Dread and Lundy had two 3s apiece and Penn State finished 13 of 22 from long distance.
The Aggies have had trying times recently when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Williams was infamously miffed when they weren't selected last year. This season they came in as a No. 7 seed, lower than Texas A&M fans felt fair.
Penn State: The Lions’ dominance in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2011 will only intensify the spotlight on second-year coach Shrewsberry, whose name has been connected to openings at Notre Dame and Georgetown.
Texas A&M: The Aggies' first appearance in the tournament in five years ended the same way as the last one — with a thud. They lost by 27 points to Michigan in the 2018 Sweet 16.
Penn State will play Texas for the first time in men's basketball.