WARREN - Following Kennedy's 20-point loss to Bristol last Friday, Eagles' coach Shawn Pompelia took the blame on himself.
Pompelia decided to employ a zone for fear of getting into foul trouble in the loss, but he and the coaching staff learned from that mistake. The Eagles played aggressive, man-to-man defense against Mathews en route to a 52-33 win over the Mustangs Tuesday night.
"I told the young men in the locker room here that they're 1-0," he said. "I'm 0-1. When we came back to practice over the weekend, we turned them loose. We wanted to get back to basics - get back to the way we know how to play. We need to get after it, rather than playing passive."
The defense didn't look hot on the Mustangs' first possession, allowing a Wyatt Ford bucket.
That would be Mathews' last lead of the game, however, as the Kennedy defense ramped up its pressure. The Eagles (1-1) held the Mustangs (1-1) scoreless for four minutes in the middle of the quarter, and Mathews shot 3 of 11 from the field in the first eight minutes.
Sophomore Luke Keck said there was a big difference in how the Eagles started on Tuesday in relation to last Friday.
"We definitely played a lot better in man today than in the zone," Keck said. "We knew what we were doing, we came out with a lot of intensity and we didn't let them score.
"They like to leak out on defense, and we stopped that."
To go along with the defense, Kennedy's guard play shined.
Senior Dominic Naples and sophomore Preston Caparanis led the way, combining for 30 points or over half the team's offense. Keck added seven points.
The guards also penetrated into the heart of the Mathews' defense and found ways to kick it out to other players, giving their teammates good, open looks.
Naples and Caparanis picked up the team at various important times throughout the game. During the second quarter, with Mathews pulling within seven points, Caparanis hit a runner and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to stop any momentum by the Mustangs.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Naples drove into the lane twice in a row for easy buckets, pushing his team's lead to 45-29 with 4:54 remaining.
"I thought Dom did an excellent job managing the clock," Pompelia said. "We're mentoring (Caparanis) through Dom, and Dom's been an astounding leader for this team. The best thing that Dom has done is after Friday's game, he told Luke Keck, 'Don't worry about your play - we got your back.'
"Right there showed his senior leadership, how he's a captain for this team and how he needs to lead us."
As for Mathews, coach Mike O'Dell is hoping his team will be looking to put this game behind it when the team takes on Maplewood on Friday.
"Losses like these really fuel the fire," O'Dell said. "There's blood in the water."