Tramel: Why Cade Cunningham's ankle isn't Oklahoma State's only concern heading into Big 12 Tournament
Cade Cunningham stepped on Davion Mitchell’s foot and fell to the hardwood with 42.8 seconds left in a game that already was over. The season? We’ll see.
OSU’s freshman phenom suffered a rolled ankle, and it didn’t appear to be serious. But you never know. Nineteen Cowboy seasons ago, the marvelous Mo Baker suffered a sprained ankle, kept playing, but never was the same.
No reason to worry, primarily because it doesn’t help. Pray? Sure. Worry? Nope.
And if you pray, might as well throw in some appeals for Cunningham’s ballhandling. It’s the only flaw in his game. Cunningham gets a little lax with the roundball.
As we saw Thursday night. Baylor beat OSU 81-70 in a game that didn’t shouldn’t have dampened Cowboy post-season spirits. At least not until Cunningham played footsy with Mitchell.
OSU was in danger of getting blown out by the potent Bears, who are back in the saddle after a COVID-related layoff and rust. Instead, the Cowboys fought back and made it a game. Had a chance to win until the final couple of minutes.
Cunningham was sensational, like usual, and his teammates were solid. OSU didn’t rebound quite well enough, and Baylor’s offense was in high gear (51% shooting, 41% from 3-point range), as it should be. The 20-1 Bears are national-title contenders for a reason.
But OSU’s downfall was its turnovers; nine in each half. Baylor outscored the Cowboys 26-18 in points off turnovers, which essentially was the difference in the game. For all the angst over rebounding, OSU outscored the Bears 11-8 in second-chance points. Turnovers kept the Cowboys from a possible upset.
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And those turnovers often were unforced errors. Particularly Cunningham’s.
With 5½ minutes left in the game, OSU trailed 64-60. It was the only time in the final 32 minutes of the game that the Cowboys were as close as four points and had possession.
OSU ran a screen that put Baylor big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua guarding Cunningham above the key. Tchatchoua is a 6-foot-8, 245-pound center who is a heck of an inside presence. But Tchatchoua could no more steal the ball from Cunningham than I could steal gold bricks from Fort Knox.
And Tchatchoua didn’t steal the ball. Cunningham gave it to him. Cunningham dribbled haphazardly, and when bouncing the ball from his left hand to his right, it somehow got away from Cunningham and into Tchatchoua's hands. Tchatchoua flipped the ball to Jared Butler, who got it to Macio Teague for a fast-break layup. Soon enough, Baylor had a nine-point lead, and the Cowboys were climbing uphill the rest of the game.
“He knows he’s gotta take care of the ball better in that situation,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said.
Cunningham finished with five turnovers, and three came with virtually no defensive pressure, including a weak lob pass intended for Kalib Boone and a behind-the-back dribble that went askew while Cunningham was lightly guarded by Matthew Meyer, another forward with limited defensive chops on the perimeter.
“We can’t make that many mistakes against this caliber of team,” Boynton said. “Not this time of year. There’s too much urgency. Too many teams, they don’t want this thing to end.”
In conference play, OSU leads the Big 12 in turnovers per game, 15.9. The next three teams are Kansas State, Iowa State and TCU, the three squads that are not NCAA Tournament-bound.
Next in line are Texas (13.8), Baylor (12.6), West Virginia (12.6), Kansas (12.6), Texas Tech (10.7) and OU (10.3). That’s a difference of anywhere from two to five possessions per game. Two to five points per game. That’s the difference between winning and losing in the Big 12, and the same could be true in the NCAAs.
“The turnovers really killed us,” said OSU’s Avery Anderson. “That’s a possession we didn’t get a shot up. With those possessions, we could have been in the game.”
Cunningham otherwise was dominant: 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 4-of-8 on deep balls, with seven rebounds and four assists.
Pray for Cunningham’s ankle. And while you’re at it, pray for his handle, too.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.