McClellan barely stays unbeaten in Invite

Pine Bluff native and Detroit Tiger outfielder Torii Hunter made his second appearance at the Zebra Invitational on Saturday – this time speaking to the Pine Bluff Zebras following their 68-67 loss to Little Rock McClellan in the second round at McFadden Gymnasium.

He told the Zebras that is important to not be discouraged by their one-point loss but remember that sometimes a loss can teach you more than a win.

Maybe the Zebras will take the words to heart as they still have one more game left in the Invitational — a meeting with cross-town rival Dollarway on Monday.

In Saturday’s loss to McClellan, Pine Bluff trailed by five points with about 1:31 left in the game and eventually got within one point following an offensive putback by Marcus Thomas with less than a minute left.

After a missed free throw by McClellan with about 18 seconds left, Pine Bluff had an opportunity to take the lead with 12 seconds left, but the shot rimmed out.

“We just wanted to stay close and do it in the end and that’s what they did,” Pine Bluff head coach Carl Smith said. “…We didn’t take of business like we should have.”

Pine Bluff fell behind early as McClellan led by as much as 12 points in the first quarter. They took advantage of Pine Bluff’s sloppy play early and took a 6-0 lead with about 5:46 left in the first quarter.

After Pine Bluff got within four points on a bucket by Jerrod Willis, McClellan went on an 8-0 run.

“We came out a little sluggish,” Smith said. “The thing is, I think we were just a little over confident.

“We thought they were going to lay down. But (McClellan) fought and made some big shots.”

Pine Bluff rebounded in the second quarter thanks to the play of Roosevelt Murray, who scored 13 points in the quarter as the Zebras took a 32-29 lead at halftime.

“I’m not worried about Rose putting it in the basket,” Smith said. “Sometimes he takes on a big load and maybe he could not overload himself too much thinking he got all the weight on him.

“… I’d like to get the rest of them involved like we did the other day. That’s how you win games, getting folks in double figures.

“We don’t want to put the load on one person.”

Murray led the team with 23 points.

McClellan and Pine Bluff traded baskets in the third quarter for the most part, although the Zebras did have a five-point lead with less than three minutes left. By the end of the third quarter, McClellan had a 52-50 lead.

“We had some bright spots, not everything was bad,” Smith said. “Will (Gragg) got a little bit more aggressive and went to the glass a bit stronger.

“And we had some good post stuff.”

J’marlos Johnson contributed with 10 points and Thomas chipped in 13 points for Pine Bluff. Keith Hayes led McClellan with 19 points.

Pine Bluff (4-4) moves to 1-1 in the tournament following the loss and will play Dollarway on Monday to close out the round robin play.

“It is a rivalry game,” Smith said. “They ain’t going to think about no rust. They are going to come at us with the full force, and I expect nothing less.”

Dollarway defeated Little Rock Mills 46-43 Saturday in the second round of the Zebra Invitational for its first win of the season.

“Once those athletes get down on the floor, it don’t take them long to get into the groove of things,” Smith said. “I expect them to come in and give us their best shot.

“But I also expect us to step up to the plate too.”