WARREN - Girard and John F. Kennedy High Schools entered Tuesday's showdown heading in completely different directions.
The Indians were winners of five straight, while Kennedy lost five in a row, last winning on Dec. 21.
The two non-conference foes left Tuesday going in the same directions.
Girard's zone defense caused problems for the Eagles most of the game, and the Indians used a balanced attack to pull away from Kennedy in a 52-41 victory at Gillen Gymnasium.
Girard coach Craig Hannon said the Indians primarily used a man-to-man defense during their five-game winning streak, but he felt a zone would be a better fit against the Eagles (3-9). Kennedy enjoyed some early success by going inside and driving in the lane, but as the game wore on, the Eagles failed to make jump shots, hesitated to penetrate the lane and continuously made bad passes. The miscues led to 16 turnovers and several fast-break opportunities for the Indians (8-3).
"(The zone) helps you kind of settle in - pack it in and make them take some shots they don't want to take," Hannon said. "Our guys did a really good job in the zone. I thought this was the best defensive game we've played overall. Our guys really sold out defensively, which is why we got the win."
Girard sophomore sensation Craig Randall had a rare off night despite finishing with a game-high 13 points. He was 4 of 19 from the field, 1 of 4 from 3-point land and was constantly double- and triple-teamed by Kennedy. He made up for the poor shooting by contributing team-highs in rebounds (12), steals (6) and assists (4). Only two players reached double figures for Girard, but six players scored at least six points.
Junior Evan Standohar (11 points) was one of many Indians who stepped up with Randall struggling from the field. Standohar said ball movement and different players attacking on a regular basis created a balance that was hard for the Eagles to stop.
"Coach always tells us to be ready," Standohar said. "Anybody's number could be called, and you have to be ready to play. I think we play pretty well as a team, and we understand that if Craig's not feeling it, other people need to step up, and I think we did that tonight."
The Indians led 28-25 at the half, but they started the third quarter on a 6-1 run to go up 34-27, and Kennedy never got any closer than seven from that point on. The Eagles finished with 16 turnovers, 13 missed lay ups, were outrebounded 33-26 and went 10 of 19 from the free-throw line. Kennedy coach Shawn Pompelia took the loss personally.
"This is on me," he said. "The issues we're having and the lack of production, it's on me. This is my fault. It's something I need to correct. I need to get the kids playing the way we (the coaching staff) think they can be playing."
No one reached double figures for the Eagles. Preston Caparanis, Dominic Naples and Robert Seger tied for the team high with eight points. Pompelia pointed out that it won't get any easier with Cleveland Central Catholic and Villa Angela-St. Joseph, ranked No. 3 in the state in Division IV, next up on their schedule. Still, after holding a long meeting with the team after the game, he said the future is optimistic for Kennedy.
"I know what needs fixed, and we're going to get it fixed" he said. "It might be later than sooner, but we're going to get better."