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Five Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 81-77 Victory against Arkansas

Cade dominates and Moncrieffe stuffs.

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[Photo via Courtney Bay/OSU Athletics]

BOX SCORE

Cade Cunningham is back, and he is still just as dominant.

Oklahoma State’s star freshman led the Cowboys to an 81-77 victory against Arkansas on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge despite having not played in 18 days after going into COVID protocol. The game was tight throughout, and here are five thoughts from it.

1. We Are All Witness

Cade Cunningham is the best college basketball player in the country.

After not having played since Jan. 12, the future No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft had 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 31 minutes Saturday. But it wasn’t that he did it. It was how he did it.

He scored 14 points on 63% shooting in the second half.

In the final 21 seconds of the game, Cunningham hit an assassin-like step-back over former OSU commit Davonte Davis to give OSU a 79-77 lead.

Then he pulled down a defensive rebound on an attempted game-winning 3-point shot from Connor Vanover. Cunningham got fouled. He was at the line with a 1-and-1 and hit both foul shots, essentially icing the game because OSU had a 4-point lead with 3 seconds to play.

But for good measure, Cunningham also stole Arkansas’ inbound heave down the floor.

He is a closer. When the game is on the line, there isn’t a question which Cowboy Mike Boynton is going too, and Cunningham oftentimes finds a way to get it done.

And he did that after having limited physical activity for 18 days.

“Boring,” Cunningham said of his time off. “It’s been boring being in the house. I haven’t been able to do nothing. Just sitting in there, no basketball, no physical activity like that, it’s been boring. I just had fun today. I’m glad to be back.

“I think early on, just the first couple up-and-downs kind of had me winded, just kind of getting accustomed to the pace of the game, but after a while, my adrenaline got flowing, things like that. I really wasn’t too worried about my fatigue or the fact that I missed so many days. I just tried to feel myself and be in the moment. I did that, and eventually I got comfortable again.”

2. Are Turnovers Becoming a Trend?

The Cowboys’ 14 turnovers a game are middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12, but things haven’t exactly been pretty in the Pokes’ past two outings.

Against Iowa State on Monday, OSU had a season-high 24 turnovers. Some started sounding alarm bells, but I thought it would make some sense that without Cunningham, OSU’s primarily ball-handler, that OSU would have some issues.

But then the first half happened Saturday where OSU gave the ball away 15 times, and it looked as if OSU was on pace to give Arkansas the ball 30 times.

Luckily for the Cowboys and the orange-clad fanbase pulling its collective hair out, OSU had only four turnovers in the second half.

OSU coach Mike Boynton said the group needed to slow down a bit. The Cowboys are a running team, so slowing down can seem counterintuitive. But, there is a line of control and out of control that needs to be walked.

A couple of the turnovers also came from some tough (bogus?) offensive foul calls.

“Yeah, we need to slow down,” Boynton said. “I watched the [Iowa State] game after we got stuck in Ames. I watched it in the hotel that night, and I immediately told one of the managers to take it off my computer and never put it on because I couldn’t watch again.

“I usually watch a game like three or four times. That one I did not. But, I knew that we had to clean up offensively. Part of it was they were changing defenses. You have to give them credit. They were pretty scrappy. They are pretty active length wise, just like we are, and a lot of turnovers were forced, but some were sloppy, and we’ve got to clean those up as we move forward.”

3. Stealing Points

According to Boynton, the Cowboys have two sideline inbound plays, and one of them stole the Cowboys 2 points at the end of the first half.

With a 7-foot-3 center guarding him, Cunningham through a half-court lob to Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe with 0.6 seconds to play. Moncrieffe coolly tapped the ball into the hoop, and the Cowboys went into the locker room with a 38-34 lead.

It spawned a lot of questions. How did Cunningham get it over the 7-3 Vanover? Why was Vanover on the ball and not defending the rim when all OSU could do is throw the ball at the rim? Was it designed or was it done on the fly?

“I could kind of see coach over there scanning the court and I was like, ‘What is he thinking?’” Cunningham said. “And then he just told Bryce [Williams] go screen for MA. So I knew he was going to go to the rim. They put the big fella, 7-3 on the ball instead of under the rim. So I was like, ‘It’s going to the rim.’ Threw it up there, and MA’s so athletic I just tried to — I wanted to put it as close to the rim as I could and MA went and got it.”

In the postgame news conference, Kalib Boone asked Cunningham how he got it around the 7-3 Vanover. If you notice in the clip, Cunningham is as far away from the out-of-bounds line as the ref would allow him.

It ended up being a big bucket in a game that ended 81-77. Without it, Cade’s game-winner would’ve just tied the game.

4. Moncrieffe Sends Layup Attempt to the Shadow Realm

Speaking of Moncrieffe, the Canadian freshman had the nastiest block I’ve seen at an OSU game since Yor Anei was sending shots into the stands.

Desi Sills, the victim, tried to take the action to Moncrieffe, but the freshman more than got the better of the junior. Moncrieffe smacked the ball so hard it sounded like a microphone was in it.

To add injury to the insult, Sills then smacked hard off Eddie Sutton Court. His head jerked back. And Isaac Likekele promptly scored at the other end.

5. A Pointless Stat

OSU is 7-0 this season when Isaac Likekele makes a 3-pointer.

He made a 3 Saturday with 7:52 to go. It cut an Arkansas lead to 64-62, but considering OSU was 6-0 in games he made one entering the Arkansas tilt, it might have iced the game.

Likekele is 7-for-15 (47%) from beyond the arc this season. It’s an area that he isn’t elite at but something he has been able to keep defenses honest with this season.

His seven makes on the year are the most he has made in a college season.

OSU was 2-1 when he made a 3 last season and 2-4 when he made one his freshman year.

This all means next to nothing, but I found it interesting.

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