This figured to be the Cade Cunningham show for Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys’ freshman guard, after all, is considered one of the best players in the nation and he figured to carry them in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, in Oklahoma State’s 69-60 first-round win over No. 14 seed Liberty on Friday night in Indianapolis, their star was a mere spectator, struggling with his game as his teammates bailed him out for most of the night.
Until the end of the game, when the Cowboys needed to close the matter. That’s when Cunningham, noted for his incredible patience, took charge.
He had one point at halftime and scored 14 in the second half. More importantly, he separated the Cowboys from what had been a tight, tedious affair in the final 100 seconds, hitting two free throws to give them a 62-56 lead and then a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining to put it away at 65-56.
This has been Cunningham’s MO after slow starts this season. In 18 games, he’s had at least 18 points in the second half. For Oklahoma State, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, it was its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009.
The win sends it to a second-round matchup Sunday against 12th-seeded Oregon State, which upset Tennessee earlier Friday.
Cunningham, who averages 20.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, didn’t make his first basket until 4:35 into the second half. He finished with 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting, 2-of-8 from 3-point distance.
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