In the three point shootout that erupted at the Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday night, Texas A&M brought a Red Ryder BB gun while Penn State showed up with a rocket launcher. The Aggies had no answers for the Nittany Lions potent offensive attack, getting throttled by 17 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, 76-59. The loss ends A&M’s season with a 25-10 record and leaves many fans with the bitter disappointment of unfulfilled expectations for Aggie basketball.
A&M came out attacking the paint early and had some success as Julius Marble hit 3 of the teams first 4 shots to give the Ags an early 9-5 lead. However, it was obvious from the earliest stages of the game that A&M would have to overcome the hot shooting of the Nittany Lions. Andrew Funk was on fire, hitting 4-for-5 from deep in the first half. The Lions opened up a double-digit lead with just over 5:00 remaining in the half, and their advantage would grow to as much as 18 before the break. As Penn State kept hitting shots from deep, A&M was lured into taking more 3 pointers to attempt to keep pace, abandoning the interior attack that had kept them in the game early. With the Aggies facing a 16 point deficit at halftime, it was obvious that they would need a heroic effort in the final 20 minutes to have a chance.
Unfortunately, that heroic effort was not to be found. Andrew Funk continued his bombardment, hitting another 4-of-5 three point attempts in the second half. Jalen Pickett dazzled all night long with his ability to collapse the defense and find open shooters. The Aggie guards drew most of the defensive assignments against Pickett, but they were clearly overmatched. When the Aggie defense collapse to stop Pickett’s backdown, the defensive rotation to close out shooters looked two steps too slow. The few successful defensive stops came with one of the bigger A&M forwards, Manny Obaseki and Solomon Washington, using their strength to keep Pickett further away from the basket and their length to disrupt his pull-up jumper. The Aggies fired up an astounding 23 attempts from three to try to narrow the gap, but the makes were too far and few between. Penn State’s lead would grow to as much as 26, and it was obvious with ten minutes remaining that the game had been decided.
The Lions shot 48.2% from the floor and a staggering 59.1% from three. On the other side, A&M shot an abysmal 33.9% from the floor and 29.4% from three on a ludicrous 34 attempts. Dexter Dennis was the lone bright spot for A&M offensive, finishing with 19 points and 8 board on 6-of-14 shooting despite clearly laboring with his injured knee in the second half. After a hot start in which he went 3-of-4 in the opening 4 minutes, Julius Marble would take only one shot in the final 30 minutes of the game. Wade Taylor struggle mightily, going 2-for-15 from the floor and 1-for-10 from deep to finish with 10 points. Boots Radford fared only marginally better, hitting 5-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-11 from three for 14 points.
There are certainly questions about the future of the A&M roster. Fifth year graduate transfer Dexter Dennis is the only member of the team who was honored on Senior Day, leaving many to speculate that seniors Boots Radford and Andre Gordon may play to exercise their Covid exception for a fifth year of eligibility. It remains to be seen if any members of the current squad will enter the transfer portal. The Aggies have only signed one high school senior, 3 star guard Bryce Lindsay from IMG Academy, but coach Buzz Williams has shown a propensity to be active in the transfer portal to fill out his roster.