Weems’ heroics lift Missouri State past Southern Illinois

Jermaine Mallett of Missouri State looks for a passing lane as he is defended by John Freeman of Southern Illinois during the second half of Friday’s game in St. Louis.

Jermaine Mallett of Missouri State looks for a passing lane as he is defended by John Freeman of Southern Illinois during the second half of Friday’s game in St. Louis. Photo by The Associated Press.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — No matter what kind of day he was having, Kyle Weems was Missouri State’s go-to guy at the finish.

The Missouri Valley player of the year banked in a driving shot in the lane with 1.4 seconds to go, capping the top-seeded Bears’ 11-0 closing run in a 58-56 victory Friday over Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Weems scored all but one of his 14 points in the second half. He missed all seven shots in the first half and was 2-for-14 before hitting three of his last four shots, two of them 3-pointers.

Coach Cuonzo Martin instructed players to clear out to give Weems room on the go-ahead shot.

“I told the team I wanted the ball,” Weems said. “I told everybody I wanted the ball.”

Adam Leonard scored 20 points for Missouri State (24-7), with two of his five 3-pointers coming in the finishing surge. The Bears beat eighth-seeded Southern Illinois for the third time despite shooting 33.3 percent.

“Coach said for everyone else to clear out, spread them, let him make a move,” forward Jermaine Mallett said. “That’s what he does.”

Mamadou Seck had 15 points and 14 rebounds for Southern Illinois (13-19). Kendal Brown-Surles and Justin Bocot added 11 points apiece.

The Salukis’ last points came with 2:49 to go when Bocot scored on a drive for a 56-47 lead. Carlton Fay, the team’s leading scorer with a 13.3-point average, was held to a season-worst three points with one rebound.

“We were right there, we had the game in our hands,” Fay said. “We just couldn’t finish it off.”

Missouri State scored nine straight points on 3-pointers, two by Leonard and one by Weems, with Leonard’s second one tying it with 46 seconds to go. Brown-Surles missed on a fadeaway off a drive with 16 seconds left, setting the stage for Missouri State’s only lead. Brown-Surles’ deperation heave from beyond midcourt sailed over the basket and into the stands at the buzzer.

The No. 8 seed has never beaten the top seed in conference tournament history.

“When you’re the No. 1 seed, the first game is the hardest,” Missouri State center Will Creekmore said. “They came out with nothing to lose and smacked us in the mouth.”

Southern Illinois was 5-for-5 to open the game and shot 58 percent in the first half, leading by as many as 10 points. The Salukis had four nine-point leads after the break but twice missed the front end of the bonus in the final scoreless stretch.

The Salukis beat Illinois State on Thursday night for their first conference tournament victory in four seasons but lost five of their last seven overall.

“The guys finally believe in what we’re doing and they played like it,” coach Chris Lowery said. “Why it took this long to get them to do it, I have no clue.”

Missouri State is 8-5 when trailing at the half, overcoming a pair of double-digit leads earlier in the season. The Bears dug an early hole with a 2-for-14 start and shot 25 percent in the first half.

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