Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State Rally to Beat West Virginia in Big 12 Tournament

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2021

Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham (2) and West Virginia's Miles McBride chase a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Cade Cunningham's quest to win a conference championship at Oklahoma State will live to see at least one more game.

Cunningham and Avery Anderson III finished with 17 points apiece, as the Cowboys came back in the second half to earn a 72-69 win over West Virginia in their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals matchup. 

Oklahoma State trailed by as many as eight points at several points early in the second half before fighting its way back into the game by breaking the Mountaineers press. 

Miles McBride scored 19 points to lead the way for West Virginia, which has dropped back-to-back games to Oklahoma State heading into the NCAA tournament. 

Thursday's quarterfinal was far from Cunningham's best performance, as he turned the ball over six times and made only six of his 15 shot attempts. However, Oklahoma State locked in on defense, holding West Virginia to a 7-of-23 mark from beyond the arc.

Oklahoma State will move on to play top-seeded Baylor or ninth-seeded Kansas State.


Notable Stats

Oklahoma State

G Cade Cunningham: 17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
G Avery Anderson III: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
G Bryce Williams: 10 points, 3 assists, 1 steal

West Virginia

G Miles McBride: 19 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
G Taz Sherman: 19 points, 3 assists, 4 steals

Cade Cunningham Needs Help—Consistently 

There weren't many highlights on the reel for the presumptive No. 1 overall pick against West Virginia. Cunningham filled up the stat sheet with boards and his defensive efforts in the second half, but he was visibly forcing things—particularly in the first half.

This is the fifth straight game Cunningham has turned the ball over at least five times. He's done so 12 times in 27 games. That's a concern not only for NBA scouts but also Oklahoma State as it tries making a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

The problem is mostly one of trust. Cunningham forces things in large part because he's surrounded by a shaky supporting cast. You can see the moments where he's pressing, trying to will a team that wouldn't be in the Top 25 without him to title contention.

The only way Oklahoma State has a chance of making a deep run is if Cunningham starts trusting his teammates and they start delivering. Anderson's brilliant performance in the second half was a big start and could portend good things in the future. He's scored in double figures in five of his last six games, including a 31-point breakout against West Virginia in the regular-season finale.

If Anderson can emerge as a more consistent second in command, defenses will have to shift their focus a bit off Cunningham, and the star may flourish. 

Time for Concern in West Virginia

Bob Huggins' team closed the season with three losses in four games ahead of Selection Sunday. While those losses came against three ranked opponents, they also call into question any hopes of a long tournament run.

Ken Pomeroy had the Mountaineers 25th in his overall rankings coming into the day, making them about a No. 6 seed on the performance line. ESPN's Joe Lunardi had West Virginia as a No. 3 seed, which means their actual seeding may wind up overrating their overall performance.

Assuming this loss will drop Huggins and Co. to the 4-seed line, there's a real danger that could come from a few of the potential 13 seeds. At the very least, the Mountaineers are among the teams that will be a popular upset pick in one of the two early rounds. 

A Huggins team that ranks outside the top 70 in defensive efficiency is one to watch for an early ouster. His defensive philosophy requires a certain combination of discipline and aggressiveness that this team has not shown all season.