MANSFIELD — The chase for the Ohio Cardinal Conference championship got a whole lot more interesting Tuesday night.
Maurice Ware scored 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Mansfield Senior rolled to a 78-51 win over Ashland at Pete Henry Gym.
Senior High’s win, coupled with Wooster’s 49-33 upset victory over league-leading Lexington, turned the OCC race on its ear as the first round of conference play nears completion. Lex, Mount Vernon and West Holmes each have one loss — although the Knights have played just two OCC games because of the football team’s extended postseason run. Ashland is a game back in the loss column, while Senior High and Madison are two games behind the conference leaders.
Mansfield Senior (4-5, 2-3) didn’t look like a team that had lost five of its previous six games. The 78 points were the most scored by the Tygers all season, while the 51 points allowed were the second-fewest surrendered.
“Tonight is the first time we’ve actually kind of put everything together,” Senior High coach Marquis Sykes said. “We executed our defensive game plan, we rebounded well enough and we had some guys besides Maurice makes some shots. I think everything kind of clicked tonight.
“Hopefully, we can build on this and learn from it and continue to trend upwards.”
Luke Denbow led Ashland with 24 points. Grayson Steury chipped in 10 points, while Luke Jurjevic added eight points and seven rebounds.
The Arrows (7-3, 3-2) raced to a 7-0 lead before the Tygers roared to life. Senior High scored eight straight points and took their first lead of the night at 8-7 on Ware’s mid-range jumper with 3:46 to play in the opening quarter.
Ashland tied the game at 13-13 on Steury’s baseline jumper with 2:21 remaining in the first, but the Tygers responded with a lightning-quick 9-0 burst highlighted by Ware’s 3-pointer with 42 seconds remaining.
Senior High led 22-15 after the first quarter and 39-30 at the break. Ashland connected on just 12-of-29 field goal attempts in the first half, while the Tygers were 17-for-27 from the floor in the opening two quarters.
“It was one of those nights where we didn’t make a lot of shots from the perimeter,” Ashland coach Jason Hess said. “You have those kind of nights and those are the nights you’ve got to depend on defense to win and defense hasn’t been one of our strengths this year.”
The Tygers led 57-45 after three quarters before blowing it open in the fourth. Senior High outscored Ashland 21-6 in the final period to win going away.
“We came out slow. It seems like we always wait to see how good guys are and then we play our best basketball,” said Ware, who was 14-for-23 from the floor and blocked four shots for good measure. “Moving forward we have to come out strong from the jump instead of waiting.”
Nathan Haney backed Ware with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Sophomore Karion Lindsay added 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, while freshman Kyevi Roane bounced off the bench to score eight points.
“I’ve just been getting more comfortable at the varsity level. I’ve just got to get more comfortable,” Lindsay said. “We had a freshman come in and he did amazing. We executed the game plan and got the job done.”