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Cunningham flips narrative with first-half performance

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Courtney Bay - F8A872E6-C5B7-4402-9C21-4622C2D1632D.jpeg

Cade Cunningham doesn’t tune in outside criticism.

That didn’t stop him, at least for a game, from silencing the critics of his first-half production as a freshman.

This season, Cunningham has generally used the first half to feel out the game. His initial priority is to get his teammates going, rather than taking over the game as a scorer.

It has resulted in many low point totals, leading to some criticism for a potential No. 1 overall pick, as people wonder if he has that killer instinct.

But as the game drags on, Cunningham gradually switches into attack mode. He’s had a couple blemishes in crunch time, but overall he’s proven to be a clutch performer and isolation monster when he needs to be.

Oklahoma State’s 76-58 victory against Iowa State played out a little differently though. On Tuesday afternoon in Gallagher-Iba Arena, Cunningham flipped that narrative.

He scored a quick five points to start and had 12 in the game’s first 12 minutes. He finished with 15 points in the period, and added six after the break to finish with 21.

The easy explanation would be that Cunningham made an adjustment to play more aggressive, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think he played how he always plays. He was in the flow of the game, but this time, the ball just so happened to find him in good spots to score. Nothing was forced.

His first couple threes were wide-open looks off assists from his teammates, shots he will shoot every time regardless of how “aggressive” he is. Another bucket was an uncontested dunk off an inbounds pass.

Proof that he wasn’t forcing shots to score lies in his seven assists, the second-highest total of his career.

He didn’t change anything in the way he plays, he was just making the right play, like he always does.

At times I also think the Cowboys could have more success if Cunningham turned into more of an isolation scorer for a longer period. I’m at least curious what it would look like.

But that would take away what he does best, being a guy that is the engine of the team regardless of his point total.

Parting thoughts:

The Cowboys put on a beautiful passing display early on, and it continued for the whole game. The biggest recipient of the expert ball movement was Kalib Boone. His first six baskets were all dunks, courtesy of brilliant finds from his teammates.

On the season, OSU averages 13 assists per game. It hit that mark in the first half alone and finished with 20 overall, its second-highest total of the season. And it did it without Isaac Likekele, who leads the team in that category.

Avery Anderson played maybe the smartest game I’ve seen him play. As a sophomore, the game has slowed down so much for a guy who was incredibly mistake prone in his first year. He filled up the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists, along with his usual contributions on defense.

On that note, it’ hard to make defense flashy, but the Cowboys did it Tuesday. Nothing gets GIA going like a good hustle play, and Anderson, Cunningham and Rondel Walker each made all-out dives on the sideline to either save a ball in bounds or get a steal. It seemed like everyone, even the guards, were getting up to block shots, too.

sports.ed@ocolly.com