DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)Penn State star Jalen Pickett was already familiar with Andrew Funk and his long-distance shooting acumen, having faced the Nittany Lions newcomer in a Siena-Bucknell game with their previous teams.
When they were paired together in a preseason workout last fall, well, the impression was really made.
“We were shooting partners in one of the drills, and we won the shooting contest. I didn’t make many shots, but Andrew made most of them,” Pickett said with a smile. “I knew he could shoot it.”
The rest of the country found out Thursday night, when Funk went 8 for 10 from 3-point range for a season-high 27 points to highlight No. 10 seed Penn State’s one-sided victory over Texas A&M.
“Definitely, seeing that first one go in made me feel good,” said Funk, a fifth-year graduate transfer who is shooting a career-best 42% from deep.
That initial make just 2:12 into the game helped alleviate the natural anxiety of his first NCAA Tournament appearance. The other reason it was so satisfying, Funk said, was the validation of the confidence coach Micah Shrewsberry has shown in him to make the outside shot.
Even if some of his attempts over the course of this one and only season in Penn State’s blue and white have come with a high degree of difficulty.
“I don’t really talk a lot about shot selection,” Shrewsberry said Friday, as Penn State prepared to play No. 2 seed Texas in the second round in the Midwest Region. “Every once in a while I might say something, but you need guys to feel confident. You need guys to play free. You don’t want them looking over their shoulders worried about whether Coach likes this shot or not.”
Funk became fully aware of that faith in his shooting touch after a preseason film session with assistant coach Adam Fisher. Funk asked Fisher, “Is he OK with me shooting this?” And Fisher replied, “Yes, shoot it more.”
Bucknell made the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2018, right before Funk arrived. With the Bison, he was more of a combo guard with varying roles and responsibilities, becoming a starter as a sophomore and averaging 17.6 points per game as a second team All-Patriot League pick in 2021-22.
With Penn State, the 6-foot-5 Funk has been able to specialize – and thrive. The presence and passing ability of Pickett, the second team All-American who is in his second season with the program, has been a big boost.
Funk went 7 for 12 from 3-point range on Jan. 11 in a decisive victory over Indiana. He helped the Nittany Lions sweep their three games against Illinois, including a 6-for-9 performance from deep in their Big Ten Tournament opener.
“I don’t need to worry if I’m going to get pulled out of the game for taking bad shots,” Funk said. “Coach having the confidence in me that I’m going to keep taking them and making them, that means the world to me.”
As all those swishes stacked up against the Aggies, casual fans across the country flipping back and forth between the late-night games suddenly began googling for background info on Penn State’s latest long-range ace. Even though it was just a first-round game, Funk carved out some space for himself on the list of recent memorable March shooting clinics with the likes of Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards.
Or Jimmer Fredette in BYU’s NCAA Tournament runs in 2010 and 2011. Fredette was the player Funk named on Friday when asked whom he remembered tearing it up from the 3-point line while watching the action on TV as a kid in the Philadelphia area in a family with five boys.
Funk matched Shep Garner (2015) for the second-most made 3-pointers in Penn State history, one short of Pete Lisicky’s program record from 1995. Only 12 players in NCAA Tournament history have made more in a game than Funk, whose total was the highest in four years since Edwards made 10 in a regional final loss to eventual national champion Virginia.
“It surprises me when he misses, because I know all the work that he’s put in,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s just playing free.”
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