'It's a great sign for the future': How Avery Anderson III lifted Oklahoma State past West Virginia
Oklahoma State guard Avery Anderson III waved away Kalib Boone from the low post.
Thirty-eight seconds were on the clock. Anderson had the matchup he wanted and a two-point lead on the road without the Cowboys’ best player and best leader.
This was his time.
Anderson dribbled to his right, stuttered and pulled up for a jumper over West Virginia’s Taz Sherman. And the shot fell.
In one of the biggest moments of Anderson’s short career, he was ready.
“I knew I could do my thing and try to go get a bucket for our team,” Anderson said. “I knew I had to go make the big-time play.”
On a day the 17th-ranked Cowboys were likely written off across the country before tipoff with Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele both sidelined due to injuries, Anderson stepped into the spotlight.
He delivered a career-high 31 points, leading the way for the Cowboys’ improbable 85-80 upset of No. 6-ranked West Virginia in Morgantown, West Virginia, Saturday afternoon.
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“I think he’s the most improved player in the country,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “I think he’s the most improved player in our league by far. And today was an example with our best player in Cade and our leader in Ice both out.”
OSU (18-7, 11-7) finished the regular season with four wins in the past five games — all against ranked opponents. Two of the wins came on the road.
And the Cowboys enter next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City as either the fourth or fifth seed, depending on Sunday’s results. Either way, OSU plays at 10:30 a.m. Thursday against either Texas, Texas Tech or West Virginia.
The Cowboys were picked seventh in the preseason poll.
Their rise is due in large part to Cunningham. But the development of Anderson and others cannot be overlooked.
Freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, making his first start since Feb. 3, had 18 points and two rebounds before fouling out with 5:25 remaining. He never backed down against a big, physical Mountaineers team.
Boone had 12 points and four rebounds. His twin brother, Keylan, continued his hot run with three 3-pointers and 11 points, tying his career high.
And Bernard Kouma, the little-used center from Africa, had a career-best six points and 10 rebounds, including seven offensive boards. He fouled out with 2:34 remaining after playing a career-high 21 minutes.
“It was an opportunity here to see how much we can push Bernie in a perfect game for him,” Boynton said. “I thought he met that challenge in an unbelievable fashion.”
Anderson, however, made the biggest leap.
Only a year ago, he made just 2 of 23 from 3-point range and averaged 3.8 points per game. The game was too fast for a four-star recruit who dominated in high school at Justin, Texas.
This season started rocky. After showing signs of improvements in the first three games, he missed the next three due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
Anderson returned and later earned his first start at Texas on Dec. 20. He scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds before fouling out.
But he was still impressive. That was the turning point.
More than two months later, Anderson was the one lined up to take the big shots in the final minute. He hit that jumper. He made three free shots to ice the game in the final 30 seconds.
“I put in the work over the summer and even now I feel like I put in the work,” Anderson said. “I feel like my confidence level is high enough to be able to take those shots now.”
Moving forward, the Cowboys have more weapons than most anticipated, especially if Cunningham and Likekele return healthy for the postseason.
That makes the Cowboys dangerous.It begins with Anderson’s emergence.
“I think it’s a great sign for the future of Oklahoma State basketball,” Boynton said.