Oklahoma State’s young basketball team has matured over the past 20 games.
The Cowboys have suffered through growing pains of squandering second-half leads while maturing into a squad that can upset a No. 6 team in the country twice in one season.
Freshman Cade Cunningham is continuing to show why he is a projected lottery pick in the 2021 NBA draft by leading the Big 12 in scoring with 18.6 points per game. Freshman Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe and sophomore Kalib Boone have added a solid inside presence to a team that has an abundance of talented guards.
The Cowboys have won five of their past seven games and will try for their fourth win against a top-15 opponent when they host No. 15 Texas Tech at 8 p.m. Monday. OSU defeated the Red Raiders in overtime during the first matchup in Lubbock, Texas, on Jan. 2.
OSU coach Mike Boynton said Texas Tech has gotten more comfortable with its rotations and shot distribution since the first matchup.
“They’ve just kind of moved the pieces around to make the unit work as best as possible, which is what good coaches do,” Boynton said. “And obviously (Tech coach) Chris Beard is one of the best in the country.”
Multiple NCAA bracket projections have OSU pegged as a No. 7 or 8 seed. Knocking off another ranked opponent would strengthen OSU’s resume even more, but Boynton said he doesn’t put too much emphasis on one particular game. He is more focused on making sure his players are committed to getting better, and the process to the NCAA Tournament will take care of itself, he said.
Boynton also knows that teams start playing their best basketball around this time of year. Texas Tech will be looking to prevent its first three-game losing streak of the season after losing back-to-back games to West Virginia and Kansas.
“It’s such a different time of year,” Boynton said. “Both teams have evolved. …We know that everybody is fighting for their lives and fighting for positioning and trying to see who can make sure that they’re playing the best version of basketball that they’re capable of here in late February.”
Texas Tech will present a tough challenge for OSU on both ends of the floor. The Red Radiers’ 62.9 points allowed per game ranks No. 22 in the country and second in the Big 12 behind Baylor (62.8). The Cowboys will need to limit any type of scoring drought while preventing Mac McClung from having his way offensively.
McClung ranks third in the Big 12 with 16.9 points per game and 27 points per game in his two outings against OSU dating back to last season when he was with Georgetown. He tallied 21 points against the Cowboys in January. Avery Anderson III, who is one of OSU’s best defenders, has a lot of respect for McClung. Containing him could be the difference in the game.
“I would say it’s pretty tough,” Anderson said of guarding McClung. “But as a defender, you’ve just got to lock in on a defender’s waist, for me. The waist is going to tell you wherever he’s going and that’s what my Dad tells me to lock in on.”