Pine Bluff senior forward Darius Morris scored the game-winning basket with no time to play on Tuesday to beat Sylvan Hills 48-46. That victory kept the Zebras unbeaten in 5A Central play heading into their crosstown matchup against the White Hall Bulldogs tonight.
Last Friday, White Hall snapped an 11-game losing streak by beating their rivals, the Watson Chapel Wildcats. However, they faced Little Rock Parkview on Tuesday and suffered a 40-point loss.
White Hall senior forward Zavion Jackson has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs, and Pine Bluff Head Coach Billy Dixon has heard about his production. However, Dixon is making a point to his players to avoid worrying about what their opponents are doing.
"I've heard that the big kid is playing extremely well ... size does matter, and it has affected us greatly," Dixon said. "The one thing we can control is who we are what we do. Other teams are going to do what they do. What we have to do is figure out what we do, how we play and go how we go about it in a business-like fashion. If we do that, we know we have a chance."
Dixon said he saw a bad practice on Monday carry over into their game on Tuesday against Sylvan Hills, and that's something they'll try to avoid going forward.
"This week, it's been a tough week for us," Dixon said. "They're challenges that everybody has from time to time. Monday, we didn't practice well, and it carried over into Tuesday night. We really had to fight hard against Sylvan Hills just to try to get a win. That game could've easily gone anyway. We're not good enough to overlook anybody. Hopefully, that game grabbed our attention. Yesterday we had a good practice and we went up and down a little more than we usually would."
The added incentive of the Zebras and Bulldogs being close in proximity usually makes for an electric atmosphere. Last season, the Zebras went into Bulldog territory and escaped with a one-possession win.
"Anytime we play right here in the county and within city limits, it's going to be exciting," Dixon said. "White Hall always has a good crowd, and with social media, the communication constantly goes back and forward. With this game, it doesn't matter what the records are, both teams really want to win. Last year, we had to really fight at White Hall, and I think we got out of there with a two-point victory."
Size down low has been a thorn in the Zebras' side all season long. Recently, senior forward Berkarian Black has inserted himself as a double-digit scoring option from game to game. Along with Black, junior forward Xavier Turner now has three games under his belt after being named eligible to play. By the time postseason play starts, Dixon believes Turner will be where he needs to be in order to have more of an effect in the system.
"One of the thing that we've suffered with is not having that inside presence," Dixon said. "Xavier is a legitimate 6-foot 6, and he jumps out (at) the gym. He's relearning the game as this is his first time playing high school basketball as a junior. When we're running our sets, it gets pretty sophisticated, and it's a lot to remember. Our goal is that by the time we finish conference going into postseason, he'll have a thorough understanding of what he's needed to do. Black has done well, and he's still trying to figure the system out in whole as well."
In their past few outings, Pine Bluff senior point guard Kaleb Higgins hasn't had to shoulder the majority of their offensive production, and it's made for a more balanced attack for the Zebras. Dixon said he knows that Higgins is capable of scoring 30-40 points each outing, but when he doesn't have to. The Zebras are getting production from others in winning efforts, making them multi-dimensional.
"The great thing about these kids is they're so unselfish," Dixon said. "When Higgins drops 40 and the entire team is ecstatic. Our last two games, he hasn't had to drop 40 plus, and as our point guard, he understands that he doesn't have to do that just for us to be successful. He's been proud that he has others stepping up and scoring. When we have four or five guys getting double figures or close, it really helps out. Kaleb is getting double and triple teamed all game long. They're understanding the game and understanding what we have to do. Higgins is good, he's doing a lot of things, and he's controlling the tempo of the team."
White Hall will look to gain another home win over a crosstown rival when they welcome Pine Bluff for a 5A Central contest tonight. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.