HOT SPRINGS — Pine Bluff’s press defense in the third quarter was enough to overcome its offensive woes in the fourth.
Leading only by three midway through the third, the Zebras threw on the full-court press and built a 17-point advantage by the end of the period. They then held on through a nearly 6-minute scoring drought in the fourth for a 61-52 victory over Hot Springs on Tuesday night at Trojan Fieldhouse in both teams’ final tuneup before conference play.
“We’ve been practicing on our press,” Pine Bluff coach Carl Smith said. “The game was slow, and we just tried to turn the heat up and get them going a little bit more. They played a deliberate type of game, and we wanted to speed it up.”
Hot Springs (5-6) trailed for most of the game but had cut the deficit to 33-30 midway through the third on a pair of and-one baskets, the first converted for a three-point play by Quindell Smith. But once the Zebras (5-5) put on the press, they outscored the Trojans 20-6 the rest of the period, leading 53-36 at the end of the third while forcing 12 turnovers.
“I don’t think we matched their intensity or enthusiasm there in the third coming out of halftime,” Hot Springs coach Rod Echols said. “Us getting off to a slow start and giving up 27 points in the third quarter is unacceptable if we’re going to try to make a run and win the 5A-South. Pine Bluff is a good ball club. I can’t take anything away from them.”
Pine Bluff built its biggest lead of the game at 55-36 on a Victor Ryland layup with 6:52 left in the game and didn’t score again until 54 seconds remained. The Trojans took full advantage by scoring the next 14 points, cutting the deficit to 55-50 with 1:50 left.
Hot Springs could have taken the lead during the run, but it only made 10 of 17 free throws. The Trojans were 12 of 25 on free throws for the game.
Once the Zebras got back on the board, they iced the game by making their final six free throws. The final four were from Marcus Thomas, also hitting 4 of 4 three-pointers to finish with a team-high 16 points.
“He shot it well, and he’s put in enough time working on his game,” Carl Smith said. “He works on it, and it pays off. Hard work pays off.”
J’Marlos Johnson 14 points and eight rebounds for Pine Bluff. Ladarius Skelton chipped in with 10 points.
The Zebras shot 25 of 47 (53 percent) from the floor despite the fourth-quarter drought. The Trojans were only 20 of 47 (43 percent) from the field, turning the ball over 25 times.
Quindell Smith led Hot Springs with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds.