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Smeltzer: Tournament Drought, Late Game Worth the Wait for Funk, Penn State Basketball

Penn State Basketball: Andrew Funk
Photo by Penn State Athletics- Andrew Funk

For Penn State basketball and its fans, the team’s first NCAA Tournament game in 12 years starting well past 10:00 (ET) was appropriate.

The late tip-off was annoying at best, greatly inconvenient at worst for fans.

The annoyance came from having to spend all day and most of the night worrying about the game, and having basketball on nonstop starting in the afternoon probably didn’t help ease the tension.

The inconvenience, for some, came from the fact that, well, it was a weeknight, and even during the first two days of March Madness, people have work mornings. That’s just the way life is.

But as much added anxiety it may have caused and as unfortunate as it may have been for those who weren’t able to stay up for the whole thing, wasn’t it appropriate that, after waiting a dozen years, Penn State played the late game?

As Tom Petty once said, “the waiting is the hardest part,” and waiting until late at night to watch their favorite team play in the “Big Dance” wasn’t an easy task for Penn State fans.

It has nothing, however, on the program having to wait a dozen years for the opportunity.

Penn State and, especially, Andrew Funk, made the waiting, both short-term and long-term, worth it.

Tenth-seeded Penn State turned what was expected to be one of the tournament’s best first-round games into a 76-59 romp over seventh-seeded Texas A&M, and Funk was the main reason.

The phrase “game of his life” can be a stretch, but it’s a perfectly appropriate description of what Funk had. He shot 8-for-11 overall and went 8-for-10 from 3-point land, setting a Penn State NCAA Tournament record for most points in a game.

How good was Funk? Well, his teammate, Jalen Pickett, ended with 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and it doesn’t feel like anybody payed much attention to that. While Funk was stealing the show, he reminded people of why the NCAA Tournament is so great, and why being in the tournament, especially for a school like Penn State, matters so much.

There are a million things that are unique and, frankly, awesome about March Madness, and that doesn’t feel like much of an exaggeration.

One of those things is the chance of a largely unknown player becoming a sensation.

The “largely unknown” description isn’t meant to knock Funk. He’s been a big part of Penn State’s renaissance, and had a decorated 1,000+ point career at Bucknell before coming to Happy Valley for his fifth year.

But before Thursday night, Funk wasn’t a player that a lot of people who don’t follow Penn State or at least the Big Ten knew about.

NCAA Tournament games— even late ones— bring a lot of extra eyes to the teams participating, and this could end up being a positive or negative. If a player performers poorly, anybody watching that player for the first time will think of them as a bum.

But if a player brings his A-game, the outsiders will think of them as a stud.

Funk brought his A++++++++ game (I put eight + symbols there for every 3 Funk made, hehe) and, as a result, people started talking.

A lot of people.

Social media can be a terrible thing.

Although it’s a polarizing topic, most people would probably agree that some of the things said and done on Twitter, Facebook etc. over the years have caused harm. Some people feel that social media has no redeeming qualities, and that feeling is understandable.

But there’s been a lot of positive to come from social media, and Funk’s big night was an example of online platforms being beautiful, not ugly.

Because of social media, people celebrated Funk and Penn State in a way they couldn’t do in 2001.

Had Twitter existed back then, Penn State fans would have took to it in a big way to gush about Joe and Jon Crispin and the rest of the boys as they made it to the Sweet 16.

22 years later, for better or worse, social media is here, and Penn State basketball will be a hot topic at least until Saturday night’s Round of 32 game against second-seeded Texas. The more Penn State wins, the more fun fans will have, and social media gives them a way to easily share their joy with others who love the same thing.

Penn State basketball might beat Texas or it might get run out of the building. Fans will spend a lot of time stressing about what might happen, and that’s one of the beauties of March.

But whatever happens, Penn State’s first tournament game in a dozen years was worth the wait, and Andrew Funk reminded Penn State fans— and any neutral fan watching— of the beautiful things that can happen in March.

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