By Matt Norlander
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Is Jared Cunningham on the precipice of becoming a top-level player? If so, we need to look at what Oregon State’s capable of and how much of a run this team can make in the Pac-12.
Cunningham put up 37 points in overtime Saturday night, as Oregon State knocked off Texas 100-95. But the irony first: Oregon State coach Craig Robinson thinks he’s got a defensive team, not one that's capable of putting up 100 on a regular basis.
The Beavers weren’t good defensively, but against a Texas squad that’s drastically different from what it was last year, Robinson’s team didn’t need to throw down an all-world effort on that end of the floor. It needed a hallmark performance from its alpha -- and that's what it got.
OSU’s trajectory lies in how complete of an offensive player Cunningham becomes. He’s already got an incredible pogo stick and pops his head in there around the rim, but if he develops a reliable jump shot and morphs into a threat from 17 feet and in, then this goes to another level as he does.
"Jared has evolved as a player since I saw him when he was a sophomore (in high school) and I was at Brown and trying to recruit him before he blew up,” Robinson said. “He has just come a long way. The reason is because he is extremely receptive to coaching. He wants to get better and what you saw out there was a culmination of his hard work. We get to see it all the time out west. He does everything for us. He guards the best guy. He scores points. He makes assists. He makes his foul shots. The magnitude of what he had to do today, on this stage and in this tournament against this team, is big time. And it's getting to be a regular thing with Jared."
Cunningham took a hit to the mouth in overtime. He didn’t want to come out, of course; he did his best to prevent blood from dripping on his jersey. He's tough, smart, the kind of player Robinson knows is special.
“I’m very proud of the team,” Cunningham said. “We all believe in each other, we’ve got confidence in each other and we want to do well.”
Was Saturday night more about Texas or Oregon State? I’m inclined to believe the latter, because it feels like Robinson’s truly going to rise to the next level of capability and positive result with this group.
“Getting a hundred on them … that surprised me more than anything,” Robinson said. He added, in terms of getting a win over UT and what it means to his regime. “In our program, this is near the top. Don’t’ get me wrong, this isn’t the same Texas team. It feels like they lost 15 pros. They had more pros on the bench—it was unbelievable. But this was a big win for us this season, and one of the bigger wins for the program.”Photo: AP