Carson Hughes will forever be connected with Keller basketball history.
And he’s probably not the one anyone following the Indians expected to play the role of hero. But the essence of teamwork is when the unexpected creates memories. Thanks to R.J. Nembhard making a late defensive move, Keller got a turnover.
Hughes came up with the ball and drove for the layup to give Keller the 57-55 Region I championship victory over Arlington Bowie.
“I know I made that play,” Hughes said. “But it was R.J. [Nembhard] who was filling it up. I just kept saying on the way to the basket, ‘Please make this layup and make one stop.”’
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That’s what a sneak will do for you.
Unprompted, Keller coach Randall Durant and Nembhard each used the same word to describe Hughes: sneaky.
“He’s always been a really good shooter,” Durant said. “We challenged him in the offseason to be a great defender. That’s why he’s sneaky defensively. He uses his length. He’s 6-4 and really not imposing when you look at him. But he’s quicker and longer and uses great anticipation.”
I just kept saying on the way to the basket, ‘Please make this layup and make one stop.’
- Carson Hughes on his game-winning basket against Arlington Bowie in the regional finals
Indeed, the junior has been pretty effective, averaging 2.5 steals per game. That’s a solid number for a team that is usually stingy defensively.
Keller’s prospects of having any kind of successful 2016-2017 hinged on whatever Nembhard did. But he had to have a supporting cast. Enter Hughes, who has as stroke as smooth anyone.
He’s at 15.8 points per game and has the same rhythm whether he is shooting in transition, catching and shooting or shooting off the bounce. A player who can do all three requires a different defensive approach. Hughes is shooting 38 percent from 3-point range and nearly 50 percent inside the arc.
Typically, the idea is try and limit Nembhard and his series of moves. Most recognize he’s going to get his. But Hughes plays off that. That’s probably what the San Antonio Wagner coaches are puzzling over right now.
Notably, that occurred in bi-district playoff against Mansfield and in the Region I semifinal against Allen. Against Mansfield, Nembhard started a bit slow. Hughes did not. He had 12 in the first quarter. Facing the Eagles, Nembhard had 13 in the first quarter and then struggled in the second quarter. Hughes scored eight of his 13 in the second to maintain a lead at the half.
“I call him my right-hand man,” Nembhard said. “He’s my wing man. I love playing with him.”
If one is off, the other can pick up the slack. But if both are on, that’s trouble. The two combined for 51 against Mansfield, 42 against Allen and 53 against Arlington Bowie.
“He a very rhythm player,” Durant said. “He does some things that can really flow our offense. But he and R.J. feed off each other in the open floor. Carson is a big strength because he stretches the floor.”
With 35 games in Keller’s ledger, the sneak factor is likely no longer as much of an advantage. If teams didn’t know anything about Hughes then, they do now. At least they should.
“I know teams think I’m a shooter,” Hughes said. “But I’ve been really working to create my shot. When I come home from school, I’m not going inside until I make 200 shots. That’s what it means to me.”