ASHLAND — As good as they were offensively, Ashland was even better on the defensive end of the floor Friday at Arrow Arena.
The Arrows shot 57 percent from the field and limited Mansfield Senior to 25 percent shooting in a historic 67-38 Ohio Cardinal Conference victory that was every bit as one-sided as the final score suggested.
The 38 points allowed were the fewest surrendered by the Arrows (4-7, 3-3) this season. The last time Mansfield Senior scored fewer points was in a 56-36 sectional final loss to Toledo St. John’s during the 2015-16 season — two years before Marquis Sykes took over as the Tygers’ head coach.
“I’m super proud of our guys’ effort,” Ashland coach Jason Hess said. “I thought defensively we did a tremendous job of sticking to the game plan.
“The fact that we could get stops on the defensive end and limit them to 16 points in the first half was really the difference.”
The Tygers (4-5, 3-3) trailed 26-7 after the first quarter and 40-16 at the intermission. The Arrows connected on 17 of 27 field goals in the opening half, while the Tygers were just 6 of 28 from the floor in the first half.
“We weren’t fully engaged from start to finish,” Sykes said. “It was just one of those nights tonight for us where we just couldn’t put it together. Our inexperience showed.”
Ashland’s Luke Denbow outscored the Tygers by himself in the first quarter. They 6-foot-1 sophomore guard scored Ashland’s first eight points and had 11 at quarter’s end.
Roger Merrell scored all seven of Senior High’s first-quarter points and had 11 of the Tygers’ 16 at the break. Merrell would finish with 16 on 6 of 19 shooting.
“We told our guys (Merrell) is very capable,” Hess said. “He never really got a good rhythm tonight which credit our kids’ defensive effort.
“He didn’t have any real open looks to see the ball go through the basket and get that flow going.”
Mansfield Senior never challenged in the second half. Ashland’s lead ballooned to 51-25 late in the third quarter. The Arrows led 54-32 going to the fourth.
Denbow led Ashland with 16 points. Eli White added 15, while Mitch Heilman had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Maurice Ware backed Merrell with 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for the Tygers. Shad Creamer added eight points.
After starting the season with six straight losses, Ashland has won three straight and four of five.
“Early on (in the season) I think we were trying to maybe play a little too fast,” Hess said. “We were taking some bad shots on offense and putting ourselves behind the eight-ball on defense because of our quick shots.
“The last couple of weeks I think we’ve been a lot more efficient on offense which has allowed us to cover up some of our deficiencies inside the paint on defense.”
The teams will meet again Tuesday at Pete Henry Gym.
“(Friday’s) final score is what we should be able to use for motivation for Tuesday,” Sykes said. “You simply look at the final score and you would think we will be ready to play (Tuesday).
“We’ll take a look at the tape and try to correct some of the X’s and O’s, that part of it. But the part that has to be corrected immediately is the energy and the effort to start the game.”