Cunningham carries Oklahoma State into visit to Wichita State

NCAA Men's Basketball

An off night for Cade Cunningham can be difficult to define.

Sometimes assessments can be unfair for a star freshman who, contrary to rumors, doesn’t change clothes in a phone booth or leap tall backboards in a single bound.

“I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to be Superman, OK?” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “The expectations of him maybe are unfair for a kid who just turned 19 in September, but they are what they are. They’re not going away. He’s not going to hide from it, but at the same time, he’s going to have games when he’s not his best.”

Boynton knows he can still rely on Cunningham when the freshman shows signs of struggling as the Cowboys (5-0) prepare for a Saturday matchup at Wichita State (1-1).

In an 83-78 win Tuesday against Oral Roberts, the Cowboys relied on Cunningham as their sealer.

The 6-foot-8 point guard, who might end up as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, netted 12 points in the final 91 seconds. Cunningham finished 9 of 18 from the field and 9 of 10 from the foul line. However, a slow start, combined with five turnovers and just four rebounds, drew some consternation.

“If I was ever good enough to get 29 and three (assists) on a bad night, I would not be coaching,” Boynton said. “I’d still be playing somewhere. But he’s a really talented kid who understands that you have to play through that. You can’t get caught up in every play.”

For the season, Cunningham averages 20.6 points. Isaac Likekele leads Oklahoma State in rebounding (eight per game) and is the only other Cowboy averaging double figures in scoring (10.2 points per game).

Teammates are fine with tossing superlatives around about Cunningham.

“Cade is one of the greatest players ever,” said Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, who averages 8.4 points in a reserve role. “He’s going to find a way, regardless. He’s a player. He’s going to figure it out, regardless. That says a lot about him.”

Wichita State had a 16-game nonconference winning streak snapped Sunday in a 72-62 home loss to Missouri. The Shockers have been short-handed because of COVID-19 restrictions, a situation that first developed when they traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., for a three-game event in November but had to withdraw because of positive tests.

Interim coach Isaac Brown said additional players would be available against Oklahoma State. Five-on-five situations have been restored at practice after the Shockers previously held altered workouts. Four players, including three freshmen, have yet to make their season debuts.

“Some of them have been in quarantine throughout the year for at least 24 straight days,” Brown said. “It’s been difficult, but I think they’re in good spirits.”

Health issues have only compounded Brown’s efforts to establish cohesion after a tumultuous offseason led to the resignation of 13-year coach Gregg Marshall.

Tyson Etienne averages a team-high 20 points for the Shockers and Alterique Gilbert adds 15.5. Defensive stopper Dexter Dennis figures to draw Cunningham much of the time.

–Field Level Media

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