The Pine Bluff Zebras (15-10) advanced in the first round of the 5A state tournament after a 51-48 win over the Vilonia Eagles on Wednesday.
Pine Bluff jumped out to an early 9-2 lead over Vilonia. However, the Eagles cut it close and tied the game at 11-11 near the end of the first quarter before Kaleb Higgins nailed a triple to put the Zebras in the lead 14-11 at the end of the first.
In the second quarter, Vilonia sparked a 9-2 run, taking an 18-16 lead midway through the quarter. After a basket by Higgins, Charles Harris knocked down an open three to cap off a 5-0 run before the Zebras went into halftime holding a 25-21 lead.
Daedrian White scored the first basket of the second half for Pine Bluff, but the Eagles would score on the next four possessions to quiet the Zebras by taking a 29-27 lead.
From that point, both teams traded baskets, but Pine Bluff went ahead 40-36 at the end of the third quarter after Xavier Turner scored nine of the Zebras’ 15 points in the period.
A back-and-forth fourth quarter found the Zebras ahead 44-43 with under two minutes remaining in the game.
Vilonia’s Trey Kelley was fouled and made a pair of free throws to go ahead 45-44.
However, Higgins found space and knocked down a clutch triple with 49.5 seconds remaining to put the Zebras ahead 47-45.
Higgins later would hit four of five free throws to seal the win and advance his team to the next round.
Higgins finished with a game-high 21 points for Pine Bluff, and Austin Koonce scored a team-high 13 points for Vilonia.
The Zebras now have a matchup with the host team, the No. 1 seed Lake Hamilton Wolves (24-2) out the 5A South.
“We played at Jacksonville earlier in the year, and it was so loud the guys couldn’t even hear me on the court,” Pine Bluff head coach Billy Dixon said. “It’s going to be one of those games where it’ll be a hostile environment, and you have to come to play no matter what to win.”
The Wolves are well scouted by Dixon, and Pine Bluff will have a winning game plan in place that suits the style of play they’ll face, the coach said.
“They play a fast-paced game,” Dixon said. “They have guys with different skill sets that they’ll bring to the table. Now there’s going to be times where they’ll look to slow the game up. A sign of any good ball club is playing the style you need to against that team to gain an advantage. We’re going to try to speed the game up.”
Pine Bluff and Lake Hamilton are set for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff today in the 5A State quarterfinals.