Zebras bring defense to slow Wildcats

Pine Bluff recovered from a strong first half showing by El Dorado and went on to a 63-56 win Tuesday night at McFadden Gymnasium.

“They knew they had to come out hard to play with us,” Pine Bluff head coach Carl Smith said. “And that’s what they did. They took the fight to us and we didn’t respond until probably the middle of that half.”

Pine Bluff (12-8, 7-3 in 7A/6A-South) had an 8-2 lead early in the first quarter, but then El Dorado (6-14, 1-8) went on a 14-2 run to close out the early period and take a 16-10 lead.

“They did a good job of pushing the ball up the floor like we were doing and they made some shots,” Smith said. “We weren’t shooting it as well as we had been.

“But we played defense and it kept us in the game.”

An offensive rebound and put back by freshman Czar Perry and a three-pointer by senior Jaquaylon Willis gave the Wildcats a 16-10 lead heading into the second quarter.

Perry, who finished with 13 points, one of the two freshmen brought up from the ninth grade team to give El Dorado another scoring threat.

Pine Bluff finally made the necessary adjustments in the second quarter and went on a 14-3 run and take a 24-21 lead with 3:48 left in the first half.

“I think we were just out on them too far,” Smith said. “I just told them to sag down and make them come to us a little bit more.

“After that, we finally started staying in front of them and making them take tough shots. Always had a man with a hand in his face, flying to the ball and stuff like that.

“We made it difficult.”

Pine Bluff’s Marcus Thomas finished with a team-high 21 points. Jaylen Cunningham scored a game-high 28 points for El Dorado and Pine Bluff senior Roosevelt Murray contributed with 18 points.

Pine Bluff junior Will Gragg scored a season high seven points to go along with his five blocks.

“Gragg is comfortable with rebounding and kicking the ball back out,” Smith said. “But I told him, when you can drop step and put some of them in there, that will help too.”

Smith said Gragg is starting to come around and be “a physical presence in there.”

With the win, the Zebras remains in second place in the conference. Pine Bluff will host Lake Hamilton in a makeup game on Thursday.

“Hopefully we can maintain where we are at and continue to play well,” Smith said. “I don’t think this was our best performance, but I think defensively we are starting to find a good team.”