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Going for gold: OSU downs Baylor to advance to Big 12 finals

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Oklahoma State Cowboys and Baylor Bears compete during the Phillips 66 Big 12 Basketball Championship at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri on March 10, 2021. (Denny Medley\Big 12 Conference)

Cowboys Cade Cunningham, Isaac Likekele and coach Mike Boynton speak to the media after OSU's Big 12 semifinal win over Baylor.

KANSAS CITY, Mo.ーCade Cunningham stood all alone at the top of the key with 4:29 to go. Rondel Walker was driving the baseline toward OSU’s sideline, but needed some help escaping Baylor’s swarming and relentless defense.

Cunningham knew what he needed to do.

He had just buried a three to cut the deficit to two on the possession prior, so it was time for a heat check. Cunningham sprinted toward the left wing, frantically clapping his hands.

Cunningham received the pass from Walker, and pulled up with conviction over Baylor’s MaCio Teague from several feet behind the arc.

Nothing but net. The T-Mobile Center erupted, it was 66-65, Cowboys lead.

“Every shot I shoot I feel like is supposed to go in, so I find space,” Cunningham said. “I know my team has trust in me to shoot those, and make them, so I try to put us up.”

Over the last four minutes, OSU held onto that lead, and even extended it, picking up the biggest win of the season against No. 2 Baylor, and advancing to the Big 12 Championship game Saturday against Texas.

As this team has been proving down the stretch, it wasn’t just Cunningham and his 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists that sealed the deal. Baylor retook the lead with 2:31 left, looking to go for the kill, Avery Anderson III wasn’t going to let that happen.

Anderson attacked the basket, and used his explosiveness to get to the rim. He was fouled on his way up, and the layup dropped through the net.

“That was the play that had me the most hyped for sure,” Cunningham said.

Anderson made his free throw to give OSU the lead, and after a stop on the other end, Walker did the same thing after receiving an entry pass from Cunningham. Walker made his free throw as well, and the Cowboy lead was four.

“That sequence was probably our best sequence,” Cunningham said.

Anderson finished with 20 points, making it the third time OSU had two 20-point scorers in a game this season. But that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary from what he’s shown recently.

“I hope we continue to dispel this notion that we're Cade and a bunch of puppets out there,” coach Mike Boynton said. “He's really good. He's the best player in the country. I don't think it's close, but at the same time we got some other really good guys.”

The surprise was Walker’s play.

It hasn’t been the best couple weeks for Walker, but his teammates knew today would be different. With Bryce Williams’ absence due to what coach Boynton described as an incident with a bad spicy chicken sandwich, Walker needed to step up, and he did.

“We talked last night and I told him, ‘You’re going to play good tomorrow,’” Isaac Likekele said. “He said, ‘we’ll see’ and I was like , ‘No, I’m telling you you’re going to play good tomorrow.’ I was just happy for him, everybody goes through it.”

Walker finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two assists.

The Cowboys continue to get better and better, going from unranked to a top-15 team in less than a month. Despite the good play right now, Likekele doesn’t feel this team is done improving.

“This team doesn’t have a ceiling,” Likekele said. “I don’t want to put a limit on us. Whenever you have a peak, that means you have a certain limitation, but us, I believe we have no ceiling.”