Oklahoma St. freshman Cunningham breaking out late in season

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Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham (2) goes against Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) and forward Jalen Hill (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck)

STILLWATER, Okla. – Cade Cunningham waited patiently before striking.

Oklahoma State's star freshman was coming off a 40-point performance in an overtime win at Oklahoma last Saturday and fans anticipated an encore in a rematch two nights later.

Instead, the 6-foot-8 point guard went nearly 33 minutes into the game without a field goal.

When he turned it on, everything changed. His only three baskets came during a two-minute span that turned a five-point deficit into a three-point lead. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the final 10 minutes, and the Cowboys won 79-75.

Cunningham’s grasp of how to be most effective is the main reason Oklahoma State is one of the nation’s hottest teams. The 17th-ranked Cowboys have won five straight heading into Thursday’s game against No. 3 Baylor, including three in a row against Top 25 teams.

“I think earlier on in the year, whenever I felt like it was my turn, I would kind of force it a little bit more and kind of force my looks, especially if I had been passive earlier,” Cunningham said. “I think now after some time and just building chemistry with the team, getting more comfortable on the court, things like that, I feel like it’s now more of what I see each play. I’m playing with more pure intentions of just trying to find the right play, whereas earlier, I would kind of predetermine things probably in my head a little more than I needed to.”

Cunningham’s physical tools are impressive and the star from Arlington, Texas, has an NBA-ready frame at age 19.

Now, his brain has caught up. After he made 12 of 21 field goals and 13 of 14 free throws in the first game against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said the race to determine the top pick in this year's NBA draft should be over.