The Pine Bluff Zebras pulled off a huge victory in their season finale against the LR Parkview Patriots Thursday night by a score of 61-60.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Parkview came out on top with a 59-56 win over the Z's.
Thursday's game was mostly a back-and-forth affair, but the Zebras soon found themselves trailing by 13 points late in the third quarter.
However, they would close in on the lead and tie the game at 55-55 toward the end of the fourth quarter.
Pine Bluff Head Coach Billy Dixon gave credit to their defense for sparking the comeback.
"We were sluggish and dragging on offense, so it was the defense," he said. "We called a timeout and made an adjustment to zone from man. We got three stops and were lucky to make buckets during that stretch. When they adjusted to zone, we went back to man. It kind of threw them off and got them out of rhythm. The momentum swing went our way."
With about 1:30 left in the game, Parkview's Al Flanigan was fouled and nailed a pair of free throws to regain the lead for his team. But Pine Bluff answered quickly with an Xavier Turner drive down the court for a layup to knot the game at 57-57.
Flanigan made another pair of free throws to put the Patriots ahead 59-57, but Pine Bluff's Berkarion Black drove the ball for a layup and was fouled. He completed the free throw for a three-point play, giving the Zebras a 60-59 edge with less than a minute left in the game.
Parkview couldn't score on the next possession, and the Zebras grabbed a rebound. Kaleb Higgins was fouled and headed to the free throw line.
Higgins split the free throws, which gave Pine Bluff a 61-59 lead, but Flanigan was fouled again and was sent to the charity stripe with four seconds remaining.
After making the first free throw, Flanigan missed the second shot, and the Zebras rebounded the ball, allowing time to expire to seal the win.
Higgins led with 26 points, Black added 13 points, and Colby Davis pitched in with 10 points for Pine Bluff.
Flanigan had a game-high of 30 points to lead the way for Parkview.
The Zebras have pulled out nail-biter finishes throughout this season. According to Dixon, the ability to win these close games has a lot to do with belief.
"We have a system, and I get criticized a lot because I'm not emotional and theatrical on the sideline," Dixon said. "We practice situations, and we're prepared. We've been able to pull these close games out because they believe in what we do and we execute. When we're behind and looking to make a push, we're attentive and locked in. My guys are tuned in, the kids have just bought into it, and they believe."
Pine Bluff in the No. 2 seed out of the 5A-Central conference and will play their first game of the state tournament on Wednesday at Lake Hamilton high school beginning at 8:30 p.m.