DES MOINES, Iowa — In 2016, a potential matchup between the Texas A&M men’s basketball team and Texas was nixed by a Northern Iowa squad that upset the Longhorns in Oklahoma City.
Six years later the state of Iowa again refused the matchup.
With Texas waiting as a second-round opponent after defeating Colgate 81-61, the seventh-seeded Aggies saw their season end at the hands of 10th-seeded Penn State 76-59 in Iowa’s capital city on Thursday night.
“They’re pretty comfortable with what they do,” A&M guard Dexter Dennis said of Penn State. “I think they showed [that] tonight. I think they just took advantage of us in a lot of situations and had us rotating a lot pretty much the whole game.”
The Nittany Lions (23-13) entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at 38.5% and more than lived up to the stat, hitting 13 of 22 from behind the arc Thursday. Senior guard Andrew Funk, a 41% 3-point shooter, connected on 8 of 10 from behind the arc, tying a season high for made treys by an Aggie opponent this season. Ole Miss’ Matthew Murrell drained eight from behind the arc in A&M’s 69-61 victory over the Rebels on Feb. 28. Eight made 3-pointers also ties for second for an opponent against A&M in program history.
People are also reading…
The most 3-pointers the Aggies conceded this season by a team was 10 in a 103-75 loss to Colorado on Nov. 18.
Funk’s second 3-pointer of the game five minutes in gave Penn State the Big 10 Conference record for 3-pointers made in a season at 365, eclipsing the mark set by Purdue in 2018-19.
“With the offense the we play, I know I’m going to get a lot of shots from 3, and when those first two go in, you start hunting them a little bit, and you just get into a rhythm, especially in a game like that where our offense is flowing the way it is,” Funk said.
A&M entered Thursday’s matchup ranked first in the nation in free-throw attempts and free throws made per game. The Aggies attempted their second and third free throws of the first half with under a minute remaining and finished the night 9 for 12 from the charity stripe, the second fewest the Aggies attempted in a game this season.
Offensively, A&M also made a living on shots at the rim, especially via dribble penetration. According to CBBAnalytics.com, A&M ranked 19th in the country by shooting 38.9% of its shots this season from close range. A&M finished the night just 4 of 8 from close range out of 59 total shots.
“We were completely stressed out in what they were doing offensively and we were not sharp,” A&M head coach Buzz Williams said. “We were not sharp in our help on [Pickett], nor our coverage on the weakside. We made some changes at half. At times, it was OK. They are good defensive team in regards to not fouling, not allowing you to get to the paint, but I think the problem tonight as much as we could have been better offensively, we played with too high of a turnover rate. But our problem was defensive.”
The Aggies began the game with a heavy dose of passes to forward Julius Marble in the post. The Big 10 expatriate who transferred from Michigan State scored six of the Aggies’ first nine points, helping push A&M to a four-point lead.
A free throw and a jumper from Nittany Lion standout Jalen Pickett sparked an 8-0 run that gave Penn State an 18-12 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. During that run, the Aggies hit just 1 of 12 from the field and were held scoreless for five minutes of play.
Once Penn State cut off the path for passes to Marble, the Aggies lost their way on offense. Six A&M turnovers during the first 15 minutes of play resulted in 11 Penn State points.
A&M finished the game with 10 turnovers that led to 19 Penn State points.
Penn State’s 8-0 run turned into a 28-10 close to the first half with the Nittany Lions shooting 6 for 9 from 3-point range. Funk was the benefactor of the attention the Aggies gave Pickett as he hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 15 points in the opening half.
A&M put up a better fight in the second half, finishing a point behind Penn State 38-37. The Aggies, however, shot 30% from the field in the final 20 minutes compared to Penn State’s 54%.
Dexter Dennis paced the Aggies in scoring with 19 points, making 4 for 9 from behind the arc. Tyrece Radford had 14 points and Wade Taylor IV netted 10.
While Penn State notched its first NCAA tournament win since 2001, the Aggies booked an advanced plane flight home back to College Station, missing out on the chance to face the rival Longhorns at Wells Fargo Arena.
Though A&M set a new high-mark for conference wins in their Southeastern Conference era and placed second in the regular season and in the conference tournament, it was still a night too difficult to allow Williams to completely process the big picture.
“I’m really bad at beginnings, and I’m even worse at endings,” he said. “I probably should grow up and be a little more mature in planning that better. I just don’t like to pre-plan, ‘What am I going to say if it goes bad?’ I want to keep playing. And as yucky as this game was, I think we will look back at what’s transpired over the last 75 days with great memories.”