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Cunningham's late-game heroics lifts OSU to victory over Wichita State

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Photo Dec 12, 2 07 37 PM.jpg

Cade Cunningham hadn’t hit a shot in the second half, but it didn’t matter.

It was his shot to take.

On the left wing, Cunningham crossed right then left then back again. He hesitated before pulling the ball back and elevating with a hand in his face. 

Hit.

Cunningham’s last-second heroics put the Oklahoma State basketball team ahead by three as the Cowboys closed out a 67-64 road victory against Wichita State. 

“I knew I was gonna take the last shot,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know what coach (Boynton) thought. I just knew (to) come down and score. I had full confidence shooting the shot.”

OSU coach Mike Boynton nearly decided against a timeout before the Cowboys’ final possession. He spaced the floor and let his star go to work.

Cunningham started the game 0-for-6 from the field before finding a bit of a rhythm towards the end of the first half. In the second, he didn’t attempt a field goal until there was only 1:26 left in the game.

Wichita State’s Dexter Dennis, a player who prides himself on defense, drew Cunningham’s primary assignment for most of the game, but he had help.

“This is gonna happen a lot, but the game plan was to stop him,” Boynton said. “They were sending a second and third defender every time he tried to dribble penetrate. What he’s gonna do is make the right play.

“Is he still the guy late in the game that has the ball in his hands? Absolutely.”

Cunningham still had a clear impact on the game without his usual scoring output, as evidenced by him finishing plus-14 for the contest, by far the highest mark of anyone on the roster.

When teams all-out commit to stopping him, that creates opportunities for other players to score. Junior Isaac Likekele finished with 14 points, making a number of timely buckets. Likekele also was huge for the Cowboys on the glass, hauling in five offensive rebounds.

Rondel Walker continues to impress as a freshman, attacking closeouts and carving into the lane and to the rim seemingly at will.

Cunningham said he wasn’t focused on his lack of shots, he just wanted to make the right decision.

“I just shot the shots that they gave me,” Cunningham said. “They helped (on defense) a lot and my teammates were open. I have a ton of trust in my teammates. I know they’re gonna make shots.”

Mike Boynton made a change in the starting lineup, switching out sophomore big man Kalib Boone in exchange for Bernard Kouma.

Kouma had three fouls and a turnover, not exactly impressive numbers. He was also out of position on a number of defensive rotations, yet Boynton was happy with the little things Kouma did to make an impact.

“(Kouma’s) stat line will tell you I’m an idiot,” Boynton said. “But his 12 minutes were invaluable. He gets guys open. He’s a big man as a screener. He did a really good job of setting the tone for us physically inside.”

OSU once again showcased its depth against the Shockers, and it was needed with Cunningham’s scoring struggles.

But no matter his performance, Cunningham’s confidence never drops.

“I’ve put in so much work,” Cunningham said. “I’ve spent so much time in the gym. I’ve got up so many shots that if a couple don’t go through I’m not too worried about it. Shooting the next ball with confidence is the best thing you can do and that’s what I did.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com