By Jeff Goodman
OMAHA, Neb. - Kyle Weems had every excuse to bolt.
New coach, seven new faces and a team that was set to be picked in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley.
However, Weems - who could have taken advantage of the NCAA's fifth-year rule and played for a high-profile program such as Kansas, Kansas State or Oregon this year - remained at Missouri State.
"It was flattering," Weems said moments after torching Creighton for 31 points in a 77-65 road upset. "But I love this university. I didn't want to leave this place."
"I could have left," said Weems, who would have needed to finish an internship in the summer. "But I didn't want to be like that. My mother and father raised me not to run from challenges."
Weems was the Valley's reigning Player of the Year, but the rest of the starting unit from the Bears team that went 26-9 overall and 15-3 in the league had moved on. The leading returning scorer to accompany Weems was Caleb Patterson, who played just 13.6 minutes last season.
Then his coach, Cuonzo Martin, left for Tennessee.
"I never worried about him leaving, mostly because of the people around him -- his mom and dad," new coach Paul Lusk said. "He's too good of a kid and has so much substance."
There was Weems, who had struggled for much of the season with a new, unproven cast surround him, draining key 3-pointers in the second half to give the Bears the unlikely road victory over a Creighton team that entered the contest ranked 19th in the nation.
Outplaying the guy on the other side, Doug McDermott, who had received far more accolades for his play thus far this season.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to come out and prove something -- not only for the team," Weems said. "But this was huge for us. It shows that we're still a team to be reckoned with."
But this was a Missouri State team that has Weems and a bunch of guys that few know much about. Lusk had no option but to add a couple of junior college guys in Anthony Downing and Jarmar Gulley. He took Michael Bizoukas and handed him the starting point guard spot despite being nothing more than a role guy for the last three seasons at DePaul. He was forced to give Caleb Patterson major minutes even though he rarely played meaningful time on last season's veteran-laden team.
It was a Bears team that came into the game with a 7-5 record, one that has been omitted from the conversation when discussing potential Missouri Valley teams that could make their way into the NCAA tournament conversation.
"I understand it," Weems said of the lower expectations. "But it's hard to deal with it."
Weems had also struggled individually, averaging 14.3 points while shooting below 40 percent from the field and just 33 percent from beyond the arc. But it was just a matter of time before he broke out -- and it happened in the second half on Wednesday when he scored 25 of his points and made all three of his attempts from long distance.
"Every coach hoped he didn't bust out against them," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "But it happened tonight."
In the same uniform he's donned for the past three years.