By TIM CLEVELAND
For part of the third quarter, it appeared the Girard High boys basketball team had given the momentum away Friday night.
After building a 12-point lead over Niles, the Red Dragons came back to tie the game in the third quarter.
The Indians then righted themselves, going on a 15-0 run to pull away for a 61-46 victory.
“I thought we lost focus there,” Girard coach Craig Hannon said. “We were letting them kind of do whatever they wanted, especially off the bounce. We were trying to eliminate a lot of their 3-point shots because their offense is based on the way they shoot the basketball.”
Chaston Williams came off the bench to pace Girard (6-2) after losing the lead. The 5-foot-10 junior scored six points during the 15-0 run and finished with a career-high 21 points.
“It feels pretty good to know that I contributed to helping my team win,” said Williams, who said his previous career high was “10 or 11” points.
Williams also sparked an earlier 18-3 spurt as Girard took a 30-18 second-quarter lead. He had six points in that stretch that started with the Indians trailing 15-12.
“Our main focus was to face-guard [Cameron] Kane and get him out of the game,” said Williams, whose team held Kane to six points. “He pretty much runs their offense, so when we stopped him he felt like we could control the game. We were moving the ball well and we just played well as a team.”
Hannon said Williams has helped lead Girard’s bench corps.
“I’ve got to give credit to him and Jordan Graziano,” Hannon said. “Jordan, more defensively. Those guys have worked hard and earned the playing time. They’re cashing in on it. When our guys are in foul trouble and not playing well, we need to have a couple off the bench. They’ve done that for us.”
After Niles (4-3) went on a 16-4 run to tie the game at 34 with 4:45 left in the third, Williams had a pair of baskets to give the Indians a 43-34 advantage. He later capped the run with a pair of free throws for a 49-34 lead early in the fourth.
“We didn’t play our best half,” Niles coach Ron Price said of the first 16 minutes. “We didn’t play very well that first half, but we fought our way back. We’re disappointed in how we played, but Girard had a lot to do with that.
“The biggest disappointment is we missed so many layups and we couldn’t stop drives.”
Muhammed Salaam led the Red Dragons with 14 points.
“He played well tonight,” Price said of Salaam. “Not a lot of positives from this game, but he was definitely one of them. He understood the way they were playing that you had to get by them. They’re not going to stand back and let us shoot 3’s.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Indians, who have three difficult conference games upcoming during the next week.
“We walk into a tough place next Friday at Campbell,” said Hannon, whose team then plays Newton Falls and Liberty. “We’ll see what we’re made of these next few.”