During the preseason, Oklahoma State basketball coach Mike Boynton asked his team to do what they do every preseason: practice cutting the nets. Each player climbs the ladder with scissors and cuts a piece of net.
For young Cade Cunningham, it was his first time in college. This was nothing new to young Isaac Sickle, but it was different.
Indeed, there was a vision, Mr. Skacle said. I don’t know how to explain it, it was different this year. … That year, everyone from one to fifteen years old had the same faith.
After Friday night’s 83-74 victory over Baylor, the No. 2 seed in the country and the No. 1 seed in the Big 12, the Cowboys are now 40 minutes away from their fall vision.
I believe in the law of attraction, Boynton said. You have to believe that something can happen, and you have to see how to do it before you can do it. I wanted to show the team early on what I expect from us. And then we went to work… and here we are.
Oklahoma State remains one of the hottest teams in the country, with eight of its last nine wins heading into Saturday’s battle for the Big 12 Tournament championship and possibly the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cowboys have already failed to score in two games this season against Baylor, the first without Cunningham and the second without Sickel. On Friday in Kansas City, Missouri, Boynton finally had a full roster with both players to take on the Bears.
Cunningham, the first pick in this year’s NBA Draft, showed why he is such a coveted talent at the next level. He finished the game with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, including 20 in the second half.
He’s the best player in the country, Boynton said. I don’t think it’s close.
After the game, Baylor players expressed frustration with the defensive mistakes of Cunningham and his teammates. Macio Teague said Cunningham has been released too many times.
They scored 80 points on us, he said after the game. We have] bigger problems than shooting.
Mark Vitale said he wanted to give Davion Mitchell a defensive assignment on Cunningham, suggesting he didn’t agree with the rotation late in the game. And Baylor coach Scott Drew said his team needs to practice more, which has been lacking since the three-week break, if the Bears are to become an elite defense again.
However, it is not clear that any team would have had the answers to the likely first pick.
Cade is one of those guys you can work well with and he always makes it to the bucket, Drew said.
Avery Anderson, who scored 20 points, played a big role alongside Cunningham, and two other players scored in double figures. In addition, the Cowboys shut down the defense and forced Baylor into one of its least effective offensive performances of the season. Drew’s team shot just 6-for-28 from beyond the arc, its worst showing since it defeated Iowa State on Feb. 2. January.
I hope we continue to dispel the idea that we are Cade and a bunch of puppets, Boynton said.
Few teams are playing better than Oklahoma State right now, and unless the NCAA makes a turnaround in the next 48 hours, the Cowboys could make the NCAA tournament. They were suspended for one year after the season this summer, but they appealed that decision and the NCAA has not yet acted on that appeal.
Assuming they play next week, the Cowboys are a team no one wants to play against.
I think it’s our unit, Cunningham said of the team’s last game. Everyone is involved. Everyone tries to find ways to improve that role, whatever it may be. The team gives us great game plans, and we are the only ones who believe in them, which leads to more wins. After winning some big games, our confidence only grew. Now it’s everywhere. Still going on. We’re trying to see how far we can go.
But before that happens, Oklahoma State must take on Texas in the Big 12 title game on Saturday.
We didn’t come here to win the semifinals, Boynton said. We came here to try to win a championship.
And if the Cowboys do that, it might not be the only time this month that they cut the nets.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf contributed to this report.
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