WEST PLAINS, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team ended its first year under Head Coach Chris Popp on a high note Monday evening with a 93-83 win over Link Year Prep from Branson in Joe Paul Evans Arena at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Grizzlies, who will not be able to compete in post-season play this year due to self-reported rules violations to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) last spring, finish the season with a 13-16 record.
“The great thing is that the guys played one last game with no post-season ahead of them, and they still played hard, they played together and did their best to execute on both ends of the floor,” Popp said. “They’ve been a great group to coach.”
Link Year Prep was a last-minute opponent for the Grizzlies, who were originally scheduled to play a make-up game with College of Faith Prep from West Memphis, Arkansas, Monday evening. Popp said College of Faith team officials informed him Monday they would be unable to make the trip, so he contacted Link Prep officials, who agreed to come.
“We appreciate Link Year Prep coming at the last minute. We knew they would be a challenge. They’ve got two D1 commits and others getting D1 attention. They’re a talented team,” Popp said.
The Grizzlies struggled against the Lions early, only garnering 18 points for the first 10 minutes of the game against the taller squad. But freshman guard Darnell Butler got hot from the perimeter and scored four quick threes to spur the Grizzlies to a 51-32 advantage at halftime.
“Darnell Butler sparked the late first-half surge. It was good to see him shoot the ball well again. He’s struggled a little bit since his injury. It was good to see him finish that way,” Popp said.
Butler ended the evening with seven treys and a team-leading 23 points. He was followed by redshirt freshman point guard Ricky Torres with 17, redshirt freshman guard Lane Duncan with 13 and freshman point guard Quinton Gray with 10.
“We played with energy in the first half,” Popp said of his team. “We had good energy about us. It’s what we were lacking the past week or so. We played the way we were supposed to play. We looked like the team we’d been when we were playing well earlier this year.”
That energy also helped the Grizzlies in their rebounding efforts. “Link had us out-sized. They have two legitimate 7-footers, one of whom is going to Arkansas. But we beat them on the boards. A lot of credit to D’Shawn Coleman and Yannis Mendy for stepping up in that area,” Popp said. The two freshman forwards led the Grizzlies on the glass with nine and eight grabs, respectively.
Lions who scored in double figures for the evening included Mason Jones with 28 and Rylan Bergersen with 19.