A big crowd filled the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Wednesday to see Pine Bluff High School start off the King Cotton Holiday Classic with a hard-fought win.
The Zebras defeated Duncanville (Texas) 84-79 by dominating the glass. Pine Bluff (9-2) out-rebounded the Panthers 54-34 and collected 24 offensive rebounds, allowing the Zebras to outscore Duncanville 27-5 in second-chance points.
Coach Billy Dixon said the Zebras have ranked in the top 10 nationally in offensive rebounding in recent years.
“I challenged the guys at halftime, ‘Guys, we gotta go to work on the boards. We gotta go back and get it,’” Dixon said. “I thought we did a tremendous job in the fourth quarter coming back, fighting and fighting and fighting and making it happen.” Senior Courtney Crutchfield led all scorers with 31 points and collected 7 rebounds. Deriyon Graydon scored 22 points with 14 rebounds, and Randy Emerson Jr. scored 22 points with 9 rebounds.
Duncanville (5-7) kept pace thanks to its 3-point shooting. The Panthers shot 14 of 36 from 3-point range, led by Kayden Edwards with 5 and Beckham Black with 4. Edwards led Duncan-ville with 26 points, while Black scored 14 and BJ Davis-Ray scored 12.
Crutchfield said stopping the 3-pointer was a challenge.
“I can say that they got some elite shooters, for sure,” Crutch-field said. “I ain’t never seen high school players take a bounce off the dribble, sidestep, and knock down the trey ball. It was pretty tough, but we got it together and got the job done.” The Panthers won the tip and took the lead on a 3-pointer from Christopher Hunt Jr., but Graydon and Crutchfield soon gave Pine Bluff a 6-3 lead. Davis-Ray hit a layup and a 3-pointer to retake the lead, but Pine Bluff answered with a 7-0 run to take the lead back.
Duncanville got it down to 19-18, but Pine Bluff responded with another 7-0 run. The Zebras continued to build their lead, finishing the first half on a 9-0 run to lead 46-31 at halftime.
The Panthers came back and dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Zebras 28-11. Black gave Duncanville a 59-57 lead from the free throw line to end the third quarter, the Panthers’ first lead since the first. Duncanville shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range in the quarter.
Dixon said the Zebras were giving the game away in the third quarter.
“They pushed the ball in transition,” Dixon said. “They were taking what we call NBA 3s. They was stretching the court by putting guys in the corner, and we never stopped the basketball. So, I challenged my guys, ‘Is this what we’re going to do? Is this who we are? We said we want it. Let’s go out and take it.’ And that’s what you have to do. Keep fighting and keep fighting and keep fighting, and that’s what we did.” Graydon, Crutchfield and Emerson combined for a 12-2 run in the fourth quarter to put the Zebras back in front 72-67. The Panthers hit three 3-pointers after this but couldn’t catch up.
The Zebras advance to face Gonzaga College High School (D.C.) at 7 tonight. Gonzaga defeated St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.) 68-48 in the opening round.