The 2017 Zebras Christmas Classic wasn't as kind to Pine Bluff as they were hoping for. The Zebras finished the classic with two losses out of three games, and Head Coach Billy Dixon believes the lackluster energy that his guys were putting forward in practice relayed over to the games.
On night one of the classic, Pine Bluff squared off with the McGehee Owls of the 8-3A conference. McGehee fought neck-and-neck with Zebras and pulled out a 58-57 win. Pine Bluff point guard Kaleb Higgins finished with 22 points. Four Owls finished in double-figures led by D. Railey with 13 points.
Dixon didn't want to take any credit away from the Owls, as they came in and won two ball games in the classic, including a 63-61 win over Little Rock Central. However, he directly relates the practises prior to that one to the results at the end.
"I don't want to say that we overlooked them," Dixon said. "We've kind of been up and down. The way the game played out was typical of the kind of practice we had in Christmas break. That game was representative of what our workouts were like. We looked at them on film and talked about the fact that they were small as far as size, but they were athletic. They came in and won two ball games."
The Zebras bounced back the next night with a 72-68 win over Clarendon, as Pine Bluff senior Kendrick Thorn put up 31 points. Higgins also chipped in with 24 points.
"We know Clarendon is a very good ball club, and I think we wanted to clean up some of out business form the night before," Dixon said. "We were more locked and focused. With this group of kids you have to constantly drive them."
That showed, as on the final night, the Zebras had slipped in another close affair. Little Rock Central, led by Jaylen Sasser's 13 points, took down Pine Bluff 57-53. Along with Sasser, Central had three others to score in double-figures. For Pine Bluff, Jyrimee Thompson led the way in scoring with 17 points.
"All three games were very competitive," Dixon said. "We end up 1-2, and that's not what we wanted to be. We leaned a lot, and I think that's very important heading into conference play. The rotation shortens when you go into conference play. We'll sit down when we get back together, and we'll talk about what we need to do to get everybody on the right page ... we'll be ready,”