Pine Bluff did just enough Tuesday night to keep Benton at bay as the Zebras knocked off the first-place Panthers with a 47-44 win inside McFadden Gymnasium on senior night.
“We did enough to win,” Pine Bluff head coach Carl Smith said. “I will take it.
“That was a big confidence boost. We got to know we can play with a good team.”
Pine Bluff (15-8, 10-3 in 7A/6A South) started the game out on fire. The Zebras jumped on Benton going up 7-0 after a three-pointer by Marcus Thomas with 6:03 left.
They led by us as much as 12 in the quarter and had a 18-8 lead heading into the second period.
“We came out flat. We came out uninspired,” Benton head coach Dwaine Fishburn said. “In the second half, we outscored them, but it doesn’t matter because you have to play four quarters.”
Benton (21-6, 12-2) senior Josh Bowling took over in the second half — scoring 13 of his game-high 25 points in the third quarter. It got the Panthers within three at one point, but the Zebras had a 37-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“They’ve got a big boy that can put it on the floor and give you problems, and that’s what they did,” Smith said.
Smith said Bowling hurt Pine Bluff last year, too.
“You know what he doing with the basketball,” Smith said. “He is a good ballplayer. You can’t take that from him.
“I’m just glad we did what we had to get the win.”
Thomas, who finished with a team-high 15 points, gave the Zebras a 45-42 lead with 32 seconds left after making one of two from the line.
On the opposite end, Bowling was called for a double-dribble with 16.1 seconds left to give it back to Pine Bluff.
On the inbounds play, Pine Bluff threw it right to Benton senior Tarek Beaugard who went right up with the ball for the easy score. It got the Panthers within one with 12.4 seconds left.
Pine Bluff senior Roosevelt Murray, who finished with 14 points, made both of his free throws with 11.4 seconds left and it gave the Zebras the three-point edge.
“We stopped being aggressive, we stopped moving on offense,” Smith said of his team’s second half performance. “You get some guys who haven’t played on this level and you get that kind of stuff.
“They got to learn that as they go along.”
Benton attempted a three-pointer before time expired but it sailed over the rim.
“You got to give credit to Pine Bluff,” Fishburn said. “They did a good job. They outplayed us tonight.”
Benton was 5 of 12 from the free-throw line, something Fishburn said was unlike them.
“We only shot 12 free throws,” Fishburn said. “Which is kind of strange, because we were going to the hole every time. I didn’t understand that.
“When you drive to the hole 90 percent of the time and you shoot 12 free throws all game long. That’s awful strange.”
With the win, Pine Bluff secures a second-place finish in the conference. The Zebras wrap up the regular season when they travel to Texarkana on Thursday.
“We didn’t quit and we didn’t stop,” Smith said. “We knocked off a good ballclub.
“… We got sluggish and threw the ball away and things like thing. But we weren’t going to quit.”