It wasn’t Cade Cunningham scoring the go-ahead bucket Thursday.
The star freshman has been the one to take those shots all season long, but another capable option has emerged for Oklahoma State.
In the final minute, it was Avery Anderson with the ball, darting to his left for a layup to take the lead and helping clinch OSU’s 72-69 victory against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.
He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half. Just days ago, Anderson dropped 31 on those same Mountaineers in Morgantown.
He has scored the ball efficiently all season, but his confidence has appeared to reach another level over the past couple of weeks. Anderson has turned into a legitimate high-level scoring threat that opposing teams have to account for.
That development makes the Cowboys a much more dangerous team in March
OSU coach Mike Boynton said he has tried to ease Anderson’s playmaking load, allowing him to focus on the thing he does best - put the ball in the hoop.
“If someone is putting their best defender on Cade and their second best defender on Ice, who is guarding him?,” Boynton said. “The third best defender, I don’t think is good enough to stop him. And he doesn’t think the best defender is good enough to stop him. He’s got supreme confidence.”
Big Bern, big minutes
Ten minutes is enough to make a difference.
Sophomore center Bernard Kouma played sparingly, but his second half effort played a big part in sparking the Cowboys 18-3 scoring run.
“Bern played some big minutes for us,” Anderson said. “He really got us going with the rebounds and the free throws, and that’s really how we picked up our energy in the second half.”
Kouma finished with only two points and four rebounds, but for a stretch it seemed like he was a menace on the glass. He gave maybe his best minutes of the year in the biggest game of the year and was a big part of turning the game around.
Turnover woes continue
The Cowboys may have won, but it wasn’t pretty.
OSU committed 20 turnovers leading to 22 West Virginia points, a total the Cowboys were lucky it wasn’t worse. Many of the mistakes weren’t as a result of being aggressive, they were just careless passes and head-scratching decisions.
Cunningham in particular made a number of poor passes out of double teams and got his pocket picked at the end of the first half leading to a Miles McBride score.
“I know I’m a better player than getting my ball taken at half court,” Cunningham said. “But I’m gonna stay confident. I have a short-term memory.’
While it could be looked at as encouraging that the Cowboys have found ways to win despite sloppy play, it’s something OSU will have to clean up as it moves further into March.
“You can’t keep turning it over 20 times, not against the competition we’re playing,” Boynton said. “So you gotta be honest about... let’s be intentional about cutting those down. But we’re an aggressive team. We want high possession games which leans to more turnovers.”
Bracket Shake Up?
OSU was projected as a No. 4 seed before Thursday’s game, but after the victory it has a good chance to move even higher.
The Cowboys will likely flip flop with the Mountaineers into a No. 3 seed for the NCAA Tournament. There’s even an outside chance to reach a two seed if they make a big run in the Big 12 Tournament, which would start Friday in a likely matchup with Baylor.