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With the top two seeds out of contention for vastly different reasons, the Big 12 Conference tournament championship comes down to a matchup of one of the youngest teams in the country against one of the more experienced.
No. 12 Oklahoma State assured it would be meeting 13th-ranked Texas in the final on Saturday when Cade Cunningham ignited a second-half comeback and combined with his less heralded teammates to knock off regular-season champion and tournament top seed Baylor 83-74 Friday in Kansas City.
Cunningham scored 25 points, his sixth game this season with at least 25, and connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to erase the Bears' 65-60 lead with just under 4:24 left to play.
Avery Anderson was a strong wing man with 20, including a go-ahead three-point play with 2:07 left, as the Cowboys denied No. 2 Baylor (22-2) the chance to play for the tournament crown after the Bears won their first league championship of any kind since 1950 in the regular season.
"I know that if I'm not playing well, I know my teammates will pick me up, mentally, and they will go make plays on the court to keep us in the game," Cunningham said.
"Everybody's stepping up and everybody's trying to find ways to perfect their role and whatever that is," he added.
Said Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton, "Our guys showed so much grit and determination and fight."
The Longhorns (18-7) survived a 67-66 thriller against Texas Tech in the quarterfinals and advanced to the title game when Kansas had to withdraw when a player tested positive for COVID-19.
Getting past the Red Raiders required comebacks from 10 points down in both halves, and the game wasn't settled until the closing seconds when Matt Coleman drove for a layup, got fouled and swished two free throws with 1.8 seconds on the clock.
"The biggest thing that went into winning is the guys believing and staying together, and then the next biggest thing was actually getting stops," Texas coach Shaka Smart said.
"There was one point where they scored eight consecutive times in the second half, and we had a timeout and I said, 'Guys, you can't win that way. They can't score that many times in a row. You have to stop them.' Down the stretch we were able to do that. That's why we won," Smart said.
Oklahoma State and Texas have history in the Big 12 tournament, with the Cowboys winning a showdown for the crown in 2004. At 0-6, the Longhorns have lost more Big 12 championship games than any other team and are taking aim at becoming the first team from the Lone Star State to win the event since the league began in 1996-97.
Both Cowboys-Longhorns games during the regular season went down to the wire, and the second one required two overtimes.
Cunningham was key in that game, a 75-67 Cowboys' victory, as well with five of his 19 points in the second overtime. That was after Anderson (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Kalib Boone (22 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks) helped the Cowboys survive for most of the initial 45 minutes.
The first matchup was on Dec. 20, when Longhorns' ballyhooed freshman Greg Brown stole the show.
Brown scored 24 points, snared 14 rebounds and knocked down two 3-pointers for six of his eight points during a 17-0 Texas second-half run. He helped Texas seal the win with four free throws in the closing 37 seconds.
Oklahoma State couldn't recover and fell to 0-2 in league games after starting the season 6-0.
Unfazed by the rocky beginning, the Cowboys have been one of the country's surprises down the stretch, with eight wins in their last nine games.
--Field Level Media