Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State come up short to Oregon State for Sweet 16 bid

Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham looked more like the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick on Sunday night than he did in his first-round game Friday.

It still wasn’t enough to lead the Cowboys into the Sweet 16.

Cunningham and Oklahoma State, despite rallying almost all the way back from an 18-point hole, fell to No. 12 seed Oregon State, 80-70, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Cade Cunningham #2 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys
Presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham was slow going throughout the NCAA tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images) (Andy Lyons via Getty Images)

Oregon State powers past Oklahoma State

Oregon State started out Sunday night’s game 1-of-11 from the field. By the end of the night, you wouldn’t have known.

The Beavers overcame their brutal start and grabbed an 18-point lead before settling for a 14-point advantage at the break. Though Oklahoma State mounted a 12-3 run in the final minutes to cut the deficit down to three points, its run ended there. Oregon State shut that down — it seemed as if the Beavers threw a lid on the basket — and ended the game on a 10-3 run of its own to snag the 10-point win and earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Cunningham, despite a slow start, finished the night with a team-high 24 points. Avery Anderson added 16 for the Cowboys, and Keylan Boone dropped 13 off the bench.

Ethan Thompson led Oregon State with 26 points and seven rebounds, and Jarod Lucas added 15 points in the win. The Beavers will square up next against No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago, who stunned top-seeded Illinois earlier on Sunday.

This recent run for the Beavers is miraculous in its own right. After starting the season being voted to finish last in the Pac-12, Oregon State won three of its last four regular-season games and then knocked off Oregon and Colorado in the conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. It has come up with two double-digit wins to earn a Sweet 16 trip, its first since 1982.

“Call us whatever you want,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Believe me I’ve been called all sorts of stuff, I couldn’t care less. We’re moving on to the Sweet 16.”

Cade Cunningham struggled to lead Cowboys in NCAA tournament

Cunningham averaged 20 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season and shot better than 44% from the field while earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors and leading the Cowboys to the conference tournament title game. He was also named a finalist for the Naismith Trophy, given to the top player in the sport annually — alongside Iowa’s Luka Garza, Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert and Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu earlier this week.

By all accounts, Cunningham has earned the praise he has received, and should be among the first, if not the first, called at the draft this summer.

But Cunningham struggled in the Cowboys' opening-round game against No. 13 Liberty on Friday. While they got by with a nine-point win, and he scored 15 points, Cunningham shot just 3-of-14 from the field. He missed his first five shots of the game, and nine of his points came in the final minutes.

Though he looked better Sunday night, it still wasn’t great — and it wasn’t enough to get the Cowboys into the Sweet 16. Cunningham shot just 6 of 20 from the field Sunday. Two of those field goals came in the first half, and he went nearly 19 full minutes without making a jumper.

Will Cade Cunningham still go No. 1 overall?

Though his NCAA tournament was disappointing, and shocking at times to plenty, it likely won’t impact his draft stock much.

NBA teams and scouts will undoubtedly look at the full scope of Cunningham’s work, rather than his final two games with Oklahoma State. By doing so, they’ll see the player with a bright future in the league.

His performance however could open the door for others to climb up the board and possibly go first in the draft. USC big man Evan Mobley and Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs have shined, and G League Ignite stars Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green have already proven themselves worthy of a lottery pick.

Either way, Cunningham likely doesn’t have much to worry about on that front. A stellar NCAA tournament is by no means a requirement to succeed in the NBA.

“I’m not sure I really have words. He’s a special dude," Boynton said after the loss while reflecting on Cunningham's career. "He’s going to be a really good player at the next level for whoever gets him, and I certainly look forward to watching him.”

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