Zebras drop close one

Keandre Jones made two free throws with 7 seconds left, and Tulsa (Okla.) McLain forced a turnover on Pine Bluff’s next possession to escape Friday night with a 57-55 win during the second night of the Zebra Invitational.

“We looked like we played in practice,” Pine Bluff interim coach Carl Smith said. “We didn’t get a quality practice in and it showed up there on the floor tonight.”

Pine Bluff (4-5) led as much as nine in the third quarter thanks to an inside bucket by senior Darrian Kee and a three-pointer by freshman Ladarius Skelton. An offense rebound and put back by Kee gave the Zebras a 41-32 lead.

But McLain would answer with a 9-0 run with less than 1:49 left in the third quarter to tie it at 41.

Kee scored again and senior Rickey Clements stole an inbounds pass and scored to give Pine Bluff a 45-44 lead right before the end of the third quarter.

“We had too many turnovers, rushed passes and not taking our time,” Smith said.

Senior Tyrone Payne gave Pine Bluff a 47-45 lead with less than 7 minutes left in the game when he made an inside layup. Later, his pair of free throws gave the Zebras a 50-48 lead.

With about 3:41 left in the game, Pine Bluff and McLain were tied at 52.

Pine Bluff took a two-point lead at 54-52 when freshman John Tate scored inside. McLain tied it again at 55 with 11.3 seconds left.

McLain’s half-court trap defense was giving Pine Bluff fits all night. When the Zebras would execute, it would lead to an easy bucket inside, but for the most part, it led to a turnover.

“The only reason it gave us problems because we didn’t take our time,” Smith said. “We rushed the pass.

“We know what to do, we just didn’t execute.”

With about 3:37 left In the first quarter, Pine Bluff was called for a technical foul when it tried to make an apparent illegal substitution with a player who wasn’t listed in the book.

“We checked and double checked our book, but we are supposed to check it with the table,” Smith said. “It was right in our book but wrong in theirs.”

McLain knocked down both free throws to take a 10-5 lead and retained possession.

Pine Bluff senior Cameron Jackson scored to cut the deficit to three and Clements made a shot from just inside the three-point arch to get the Zebras within one.

Payne scored with about a minute left in the first quarter to cut McLain’s lead to 17-14. Payne finished with 16 points. Kee contributed with 12 points and Clements chipped in with 11.

For McLain, Quinton Nails led with 13 points and Bishop Louie and Jones contributed with 10 points each.

But the play of the night belong to Louie, who hit a shot from three-quarter court as the second-quarter buzzer sounded to cut Pine Bluff’s lead to 28-27.

“It is like they say, ‘Luck is sometimes better than talent,’” Smith said. “I guess they had a little luck with that.”

Pine Bluff will play again at 6 p.m. today against Brinkley in the final day of the tournament.