BRANSON — Colton Berry gave a new meaning Tuesday to “nothing but net.“

The Nixa center briefly had his head wrapped in the net of a goal at Branson following a dunk.

“I got my face stuck in the net and almost fell down because of it,” Berry said. “It was surprising. My head snapped back a little bit because of the net.”

Berry was a surprise starter for Nixa and responded with a 13-point effort in the Eagles’ 74-35 COC pounding of the Pirates.

With junior post player Jason Jones unable to make the trip due to a bout with the flu, Berry got the first starting nod his budding varsity career. He was glad to not receive word from coach Jay Osborne that he was starting until only a few minutes before game time.

“Coach never tells us who’s starting too far before the game,” Berry said. “I found out in the locker room before the game. I was pretty happy about it. I always enjoy starting. It was pretty special to me. If I’m nervous about things, I usually don’t play too well. So, I appreciate how he doesn’t tell us early who's starting.”

Berry's playing time has been on the rise the past several weeks and he's responded well.

"Colton had some good minutes tonight," Osborne said. "We’ve always had good shooters and now we’re starting to get more productivity in the paint. Colton is starting to give us some scoring inside and Jones did that Friday against Joplin. If we can get some productivity around the goal, that will open up some shooting lanes for us. 

"Berry still needs to keep the ball up," Osborne added. "He keeps it down by his hips sometimes. He’s making improvement. We’ve been on him all year about being more aggressive. But sometimes it’s hard as a sophomore to be overly aggressive. I don’t care how good you are. There are some growing pains. He’s getting past those."

Another sophomore, playmaker Kolin Ruffin, endured growing pains in December and has progressed to the point he's now established on the varsity level. Ruffin led Nixa with 16 points.

Ruffin has thrived while not allowing himself to try to do too much.

"I try not to turn the ball over. If I turn the ball over, I’m most likely coming out," he said. "Then, I try not to force anything. I try to let the game come to me."

"He doesn’t get rattled and he’s pretty smooth," Osborne said. "He can go by people and create shots for others. He had nice dump-offs to our low posts tonight."

Ruffin likes the notion that he's sneaky-quick with the ball in his hands on moves to the basket. He penetrated at will against Branson to free himself for layups or assists.

"A lot of people don’t think I’m that athletic," he said. "But I worked a lot over the summer on my first step. I think I’m a little faster and that’s made it easer for me."

Nixa (16-6 overall and 4-1 in the COC) has bounced back from its loss to Ozark last week with blowouts of 30 and 39 points against Joplin and Branson.

"The Ozark loss got us back in gear," Ruffin said. "But we need to stay humble."

"We had our system shocked last week," Osborne said. "Now, that’s back-to-back good performances from our players. I thought we got good minutes out of all nine guys. We’re going to continue what we’re doing and I think our best basketball is yet to come. I hope they prove me right."

NIXA (74) — Ruffin 7 1-1 16, Long 1 1-2 3, Combs 6 0-0 13, Mason 4 1-1 10, Sorgenfrei 3 0-0 8, Wofford 2 0-0 5, Engelman 1 2-2 4, Collard 1 0-0 2, Berry 6 1-2 13. Totals 31 6-8 74.

BRANSON (35) — Williams 3 1-2 7, Cooper 1 0-0 3, Jones 7 3-4 20, Arnette 1 2-2 5. Totals 

Nixa         19 17 23 15 - 74

Branson    7  12 13  3  - 35

3-point goals - Jones 3, Soregenfrei 2, Ruffin, Combs, Mason, Wofford, Arnette.

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