Cade Cunningham didn’t go to Kansas City to beat Baylor, but he wanted the Bears.
The whole team did.
The Big 12 Tournament semifinal matchup with the No. 1 seed Baylor was Oklahoma State’s chance to prove what they already believed - that they are as good as any team in the country.
In OSU’s first matchup with Baylor in Stillwater, the Cowboys put up a fight but didn’t have much of a chance without Cunningham and Rondel Walker. For last week’s loss in Waco, they were without Isaac Likekele.
Tonight, starting guard Bryce Williams fell victim to a spicy chicken sandwich and only played the game’s first three minutes.
But these Cowboys are different from the ones at the beginning of the season, or last month, or even a couple of weeks ago. These Cowboys can beat anyone because their talent is meshing, their players are hitting their strides and most of all - because they believe they can.
On their current run, OSU is playing with a rare level of confidence, right now, for such a young team.
OSU has won eight of its last nine games with its only loss coming against the Bears. The run includes two victories against Oklahoma and West Virginia, one against Texas Tech and tonight’s colossal conquest against Baylor.
Tonight’s victory was the Cowboys sixth win against a ranked opponent in the last 19 days, the second shortest span for that feat in the AP Poll era.
The Cowboys are arguably the hottest team in the country, even while facing arguably the hardest schedule of any team in the country over that span.
The players know their strengths and are bought into doing whatever it takes to win.
Big 12 Player of the Year Cunningham obviously leads the charge on that front, as the team’s best player. All season long, he has wanted the ball in his hands in the big moments. Pulling up without hesitation, he knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers late in this game to give the Cowboys a lead.
Avery Anderson has emerged as the clear cut second scoring option. With five seconds left in the first half, I knew Anderson was going to take the last shot as soon as he grabbed a rebound.
He doesn’t think anyone can guard him, and he raced up the floor for a buzzer beating layup. His confidence is at an all-time high, originating from his 31-point performance in Morgantown.
But OSU’s other players are starring in their roles.
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe attacked the hoop and made two huge free throws that sparked the Cowboys’ late run. Kalib Boone is efficient and effective with his touches in the post and as a shot blocker. Walker runs the floor, plays defense and makes timely cuts, exemplified by his massive and-one late. Likekele is a steadying force on and off the court.
The scary thing is they all still have room to improve.
Rebounding can be better, turnovers have to continue to be cut down and there’s still yet to be a game with everyone clicking at once.
The Cowboys aren’t satisfied.
OSU can be even better than it is right now. It will need to be to accomplish what they want to accomplish, starting with tomorrow’s Championship game against Texas.
Still, in Mike Boynton’s postgame address to the team, he said it is slowly but surely crossing the line from good to great.
The way this team is playing, they’re already there.