Kyle Weems entered Wednesday’s matchup against No. 19 Creighton somewhat frustrated by the chatter.
He respects Doug McDermott, who’s received a multitude of national praise, but he’s the Missouri Valley’s reigning player of the year. And as conference play approached, the talk surrounding the league’s race barely treated his Missouri State squad, last season’s regular season MVC champ, as a borderline contender. The Bears were picked to finish sixth in the league’s preseason poll.
But Weems’ performance (he scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed seven rebounds) in the Bears’ 77-65 upset of the Bluejays in Omaha, Neb., capped a Jay-Z moment for the senior and his squad. “Allow me to reintroduce myself … my name is Kyle Weems and we're not going to give up our title that easily,” their production screamed.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t [frustrating]. At the same time, it’s our job to prove the people wrong,” Weems told ESPN.com. “It’s probably fair where they did pick us. … I thought we did a pretty good job [Wednesday]. We’re the ones that won it last year. We’re still here fighting.”
Weems took over in the second half of Wednesday’s game, hitting five of his last seven shots. His scoring earned the bulk of the postgame kudos. But he was also a key defender who helped Missouri State hold McDermott to 19 points. McDermott accounted for just one point in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“Having it be against McDermott, who’s getting so much national attention right now, it made it special,” Weems told ESPN.com. “I wanted to defend [McDermott].”
The 6-foot-6 forward and his Missouri State squad -- in head coach Paul Lusk’s first season -- just added more intrigue to a fascinating conference. Five teams have legitimate championship aspirations. All five -- Wichita State, Missouri State, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Indiana State -- are Top 75 in the current RPI ratings.
But Creighton’s depth and McDermott’s star power suggested that the Bluejays held the edge over the rest of the league entering Wednesday’s game. Missouri State’s road win against a nationally ranked Creighton team, however, only solidified perceptions that this season’s Missouri Valley battle will be must-see TV.
Weems deferred credit for his team’s win to a coaching staff that inserted Anthony Downing (career-high 26 points) as his team’s starting shooting guard. The natural point guard enhanced Missouri State’s ballhandling. The Bears only committed six turnovers.
It was certainly a collective effort. But Weems’ hot hand in the second half, when the Bears outscored Creighton 45-31 and he had 25 of his 31 points, led the movement. And just like that, Missouri State has thrust itself into the mix of MVC contenders.
“Just winning on the road, those wins are very hard to come by,” Weems told ESPN.com. “It’s just a grind-it-out league. Each and every night, you gotta bring your 'A' game as a unit.”