If the opposing team takes 13 of 22 shots from three, just chalk it up as a loss that didn’t go your way. But when a loss coincides with your first NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
That was the reality for seed #7 Texas A&Mwho was sent home early by No. 10 Pennsylvania in the opening round of March Madness. With plenty of momentum going into their first tournament action since 2018, the Maroon and White were brought down to earth by a spectacular shooting performance by the Nittany Lions.
The Aggies knew they had the size advantage early on and they flexed their strength with a hot start from Julius Marble. The big man went 3-on-3 from the paint to start the game and put A&M to an early 9-5 lead within the first few minutes. Dexter Dennis contributed to the highlight reel from the start with an emphatic chase-down block, giving the Lions early fits.
But Penn State stayed from deep thanks to their sharpshooting. Guard Andrew Funk, who scored 40% from three hits in the regular season, was on fire in the first half as he scored 3-on-4 from beyond the arc. His touch helped the Lions on an 11-3 run midway through the first third.
It didn’t help that guard Wade Taylor IV was slow to come out of the gate. The Aggies’ top scorer started 5-1 from the ground, with two turnovers and two early fouls that sent him to the bench earlier than desired.
A late Marble basket helped stop a 17-3 Lions run, followed by a big three-pointer from Radford to try and stop the bleed. But in reality, A&M was just hoping to hang around in the closing moments of the first half. Anything that could go wrong went for A&M.
On the other hand, Penn State carried all the momentum into halftime, led by their blistering shots from the ground and especially from deep.
Texas A&M leaders at halftime: Julius Marble (8 points, 4-7 field goals) and Tyrece Radford (6 points, 2-5 threes). Team: 32% from the field. 27.3% (3-11) from 3-point, 3-5 from the free throw line and 15 rebounds.
Leading Penn State at halftime: Andrew Funk (15 points, 4-5 threes) and Jalen Pickett (9 points, 6 assists). Team: 54.2% from the field. 66.7% (6-9) from 3-point, 6-7 from the free throw line and 13 rebounds.
HALFTIME: Texas A&M: 22, Penn State: 38
The Aggies are proud of their ability to weather the storm, overcome adversity and recover this season. But if the basketball gods aren’t in your favor, there’s not much you can do.
The Lions’ hot shooting in the first half was an impressive feat, but even they managed to take it to another level in the last 20 minutes. The second half might as well have been called The Andrew Funk Show, as the fifth year completed an absurd 8-on-10 from the deep.
Penn State as a team shot 13-to-22 from three. When a team stands on such a heater, they are essentially playing house money. It felt like the Lions could do no wrong in this opening round matchup.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, when they fall double digits, it essentially forces them to stray from their identities, overwhelming their opponents in color while causing offense through turnover.
Perhaps A&M could have cut the deficit with a better shooting three, but that was clearly a weakness for the team in the regular season. The Aggies would only finish 6-for-23 of three.
The final score of 76-59 is hard to swallow, but it shouldn’t belittle everything this team has achieved. A&M hung out to dry after a 6-5 start to the year, ending the season with their first NCAA tournament appearance in five years.
The Aggies are building something legitimate with this basketball team led by Buzz Williams. Think of this as another step in building the consistency that is fundamental to the college basketball programs that ensure long-term success.
Today’s loss will ultimately prove to be a growing pain in the face of that greater purpose.
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Texas A&M will make the Final Four, according to an ESPN analyst’s bold prediction
Dexter Dennis, Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV speak for the last time before Texas A&M’s March Madness matchup against Penn State
Buzz Williams’ final pregame press conference ahead of the March Madness opening round matchup against Penn State
Source : sports.yahoo.com