Penn State men’s basketball fought off a pesky Nebraska squad 70-58 in the Bryce Jordan Center Saturday afternoon. Andrew Funk led the way with 23 points, tying his season high. Seth Lundy added 16 points– 13 in the second half–, and Jalen Pickett pitched in 12. Here are five takeaways from Penn State’s win.
GOTTA HAVE THAT FUNK
Andrew Funk can shoot. That’s a big reason Penn State pursued him out of Bucknell. Coach Micah Shrewsberry and his staff were hoping that Funk’s numbers at Bucknell would carry over to the Big Ten, and thus far, Funk has fulfilled that hope. Next to Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy, Funk is as good or better offensively than any other Penn State player. He came into the Nebraska game averaging 12.4 points and shooting 41.8% from 3.
He upped both totals against Nebraska, matching his Penn State high with 23 points and going 5-for-10 from 3. This Penn State team loves to shoot from outside, and Funk fits the mold like a glove.
”We have to find him,” Shrewsberry told reporters after the game. “We have to look for him, and you have to give him those opportunities. This was a game where we knew he would get those opportunities. There’s some games where we know he’s not going to get those opportunities and you have to manufacture something for him. Because people are playing him different ways. They have a defensive system that they stay in.”
LUNDY GETS HOT AT RIGHT TIME
It took Penn State’s second-best player a while to get going, but it happened eventually. Lundy had three points in the first half. He scored eight in the first 7:40 of the second half, hitting two 3s and a pair of free throws, and ended with 16. Being able to collect himself and find his game after a rough first half is the sign of a savvy veteran, and that’s what Lundy is.
Lundy got two fouls in the first half and had to spend time on the bench. Getting him back out there was key for Shrewsberry and Penn State.
”We just need him on the court,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s gotten in foul trouble now a couple games in a row. He’s playing hard, he’s competing, so sometimes he’ll get some fouls. But you (can) throw Wisconsin out because he never got in a rhythm. He was in and out of the game so much with foul trouble that he couldn’t get consistent. He couldn’t give us anything consistently, which is hard to do. Same thing in the first half. But in the second half, he was aggressive. He was really aggressive. That’s the Seth that we need. That’s the Seth that’s been good for us, and he’s been that way, really, this whole season.”
Penn State got called for 22 fouls. Nebraska got called for 12. It wasn’t a case of “home cooking” from the officials. Penn State was the home team.
It wasn’t a case of refs favoring the better/more prominent program. Penn State is better than Nebraska this season and roughly on the same level as far as national prestige. I’d have to rewatch the game to analyze if Penn State got a raw deal or if it just fouled more than Nebraska. In any case, the gap was noticeable.
BACK TO .500
Beating Nebraska moved Penn State to 4-4 in the Big Ten. In many conferences, 4-4 isn’t impressive, and it isn’t mouth-watering in the Big Ten. But because the Big Ten is one of the nation’s premier leagues and because Penn State went 9-2 in its non-conference slate with both losses coming against ACC schools in Clemson and Virginia Tech, 4-4 isn’t a bad place to be. Penn State has 12 conference games left. If Penn State finishes 10-10, it will be 19-12 overall for the year and still in the NCAA Tournament picture. Now, Micah Shrewsberry would like to finish better than 10-10, and Penn State can do that. The point is that Penn State is in a pretty good spot.
A TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Penn State’s next three games are a doozy. The team has just two days to rest before taking on No. 23 Rutgers in Piscataway. After that, the team returns home and takes on a Michigan squad that already beat Penn State Sunday. After a two-day rest, the team takes on No. 3 Purdue in West Lafayette. Penn State hung tough with then-No. 1 Purdue Jan. 9 at Philadelphia’s Palestra but ultimately ran out of gas and lost by double digits. After Purdue, Penn State stays on the road for its next game, which will be in Lincoln against the same Nebraska squad. The next four games will tell us a lot. With the possible exception of Purdue on the road, Penn State could win all of them. It could also lose all four. This is life in the Big Ten.
Furthermore, none of Penn State’s remaining 12 games are gimmes. So fans, buckle up and enjoy it. Penn State isn’t always playing meaningful basketball this late in the season, but it is this year. So have some fun.