Aztec downs Navajo Prep to earn first win
Daugherty scores 25 as Tigers run down Eagles
AZTEC – It took longer than they would have liked, but first-year Aztec boys basketball head coach Jeremy Archuleta and the Tigers earned their first win of the season Friday night.
Aztec overcame a 6-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to defeat Navajo Prep 62-53 at Lillywhite Gym.
The Tigers (1-7) love to get out and run, and they did a lot of that in the fourth quarter. The Aztec student section was loud, and the Tiger defense was smothering, forcing the Eagles (7-3) into seven fourth-quarter turnovers. Most of those errors were converted into easy buckets at the other end of the floor, as Aztec outscored the visitors 25-10 in the final period.
“We held them to a low amount of points in the fourth quarter and we did it with good defense,” Archuleta said. “We came out focused, and we executed our game plan.”
The first quarter was a feeling-out process for both teams, but Prep came out on top with a 19-13 advantage.
But toward the end of the first half, Aztec began to force turnovers and turn them into quick scores. The Tigers closed the second quarter on a 6-0 run to take a four-point lead and the momentum into halftime.
But the visitors rallied to retake the lead after intermission. With his team ahead by 6 after a hard-fought third quarter, Navajo Prep coach Rick Hoerner said he tried to settle his players down to prepare them for what he correctly predicted would be a strong Aztec push down the stretch.
“We kind of talked about wanting to settle things down in the fourth and run some time, and then the wheels fell off,” Hoerner said. “Next thing I know, I look up and we’re down 5.”
Aztec did an excellent job of forcing Nachae Nez — Prep’s leading scorer — into bad shooting situations all night. The junior point guard scored 16 points on the night, but only 3 of those came in the final frame.
Meanwhile, Tigers leading scorer Preston Daugherty could not be stopped. Daugherty drained four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 25 points. Hoerner said he tried to have his team key on Daugherty late in the game, but the Aztec sniper was just too hot.
“The kid shot lights out,” he said. “I think a lot of it was us just overscrambling once we got a little bit behind. We did a great job on him in the third quarter, we just fell apart on him in the fourth quarter.”
Both teams came into the contest well rested with six days off. Archuleta said he thought his team knew it was better than what it had demonstrated through the first seven games.
“We’re preaching to the kids that they can hang with anybody in the district if they put their minds to it,” he said. “If they put their minds forward and believe it, it can happen.”
The Eagles have now played in three consecutive tight games, this being the only one they didn’t win. Hoerner said Friday's loss could be a solid learning experience for his team.
“We’ve had three close ball games in a row, and tonight we’ve been looking at it like, ‘Let’s do it whatever it takes, and let’s survive,’ and tonight, we didn’t,” Hoerner said. “Maybe we needed that.”
The Eagles don’t play again until they visit Bloomfield on Jan. 8. Aztec hosts Albuquerque High on Dec. 28.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.