Amid all the frustration and consternation that Nando Chavez and the Taos boys basketball coaching staff went through Friday night, they knew there was one constant that shined brightly.
Abdul Khweis is the kind of “Easy Button” every coach desires — a player who is equal parts talented and intense and can take control of a game in an instant. He was sorely needed for the Tigers’ second game in the Horsemen Shootout at St. Michael’s. Playing a Laguna Acoma squad that was licking its wounds after a resounding 79-40 loss to the host Horsemen on Thursday, Taos traipsed around the Perez-Shelly Gymnasium floor half expecting a repeat performance.
But the Hawks redoubled their intensity level, if not their smarts, and refused to go away as easily. That was when the “Easy Button” emerged. Khweis scored 16 of his team-high 20 points after Laguna Acoma got to 33-29 midway through the third quarter and helped the Tigers turn a choppy performance into a 61-49 win.
On a day in which Chavez, the third-year Taos head coach, expressed frustration at his team’s lack of preparation and focus, he couldn’t help but underscore what Khweis brings in those moments. He hopes the rest of the team follows suit for Saturday’s 7 p.m. finale against St. Michael’s.
“On a nightly basis, you know he’s going to step up,” Chavez said. “With Abdul, we talk about this all the time, but he doesn’t have to do a lot to find his shot. He’s going to find those opportunities. And he hits the offensive glass so hard. He probably had three or four putbacks alone [against the Hawks].”
While Khweis has been a key part of the Tigers’ varsity squad since he was an eighth grader, the junior added a key element to his bag of tricks — consistency. Chavez knows that Khweis will answer the call every game, which has led him to average almost 20 points per game, lead the top of Taos’ fullcourt press and develop into a leader Taos needs if it wants to make a run in the Class 4A State Tournament. Khweis credited last year’s senior class that helped the Tigers reached the state quarterfinals for the second straight year with helping him understand what it takes to get to that level. He’s now having to help teach the current crop of juniors and sophomores, many of whom are still learning how to play at the varsity level, what he experienced the past three years.
“Being around those seniors, and having that exposure to it, that’s what it comes down to,” Khweis said. “Having that demeanor day in and day out, and having that passion for the game. It rubs off on your teammates.”
Khweis’ contributions truly began just after teammate Noah Armijo hit a pair of free throws to up the Tigers’ lead to 35-29. Khweis scored eight of Taos’ next 10 points, which included a 3-pointer from the wing and an old-fashioned three-point play a he cut through the paint for a layup and the foul. The free throws made it 41-29 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
Taos needed his help in the fourth quarter, as it let the momentum built from a 16-5 run that led to a 49-34 lead through three quarters stall. The Hawks were within 49-38 on Jasper Jones’ layup with 6:11 left when Khweis crashed the glass on the offensive end for a putback for 51-38. He put the Tigers on his back, as he scored the first eight points of the quarter, which stopped Laguna Acoma’s attempts at a comeback.
“It’s just being ready,” Khweis said. “Whatever the defense gives you, you just go with it. You can’t ever force anything. You just read what the defense offers you.”
It was desperately needed because Taos seemed bent on trying to give the game away. The Tigers committed 23 turnovers, and they seem to come in waves, and especially when they had a chance to put some more distance between them and the Hawks.
Chavez, though, was prepared for a rough performance. All it took was watching Taos go through its warmup. It was the same type of mentality the Tigers displayed when they lost three in a row in mid-December.
“Coming into the locker room, getting ready for this game, they didn’t look very focused,” Chavez said. “They looked distracted. That’s the immaturity piece. Not knowing how to prepare on a nightly basis. We had a long discussion about that.”
Khweis said the focus was lacking, but he feels it’s something that can be corrected.
“We just need to have a better mindset and better approach toward every game, because every game is important,” Khweis said.
St. Michael’s 80, Silver 49While it wasn’t as pretty as Thursday’s win over the Hawks, the Horsemen played with the same level of intensity — if not the execution. After opening a 22-9 lead going into the second quarter, the Colts kept pace with St. Michael’s and only trailed 31-19 with less than 4 minutes left before the decisive run happened.
The Horsemen scored six straight points and finished the half on a 12-4 run before scoring the first six points of the second half to make it 51-23 on Thomas Wood’s two free throws with 7:01 left in the third.
It was a night for the big men of St. Michael’s, as Lucas Coriz and Rico Gurule each had 12 points, Derek Martinez scored eight and Wood added seven. Horsemen head coach David Rodriguez said playing with intensity can make even the shortest of players seem bigger than they are.
“You can be a small guy and play strong and play big,” Rodriguez said. “We’re getting better at that. Sometimes, against tougher competition, we reduce ourselves to standing around and waiting for something to happen rather than trying to make something happen.”