MANSFIELD -- When Mansfield Senior coach Marquis Sykes took over the basketball program at his alma mater last year, his initial goal was for his team to play hard in every game -- and then to win the conference championship.
Mission accomplished. The roar has been restored.
The Tygers earned a share of the Ohio Cardinal Conference title Friday night with a 73-62 win over the Ashland Arrows in Pete Henry Gymnasium. Mansfield Senior shares the crown with Lexington.
"I love it," said Sykes, who took over the head coaching position after a long tenure as the junior varsity and varsity assistant.
The fact it's the first OCC title since 2013 for the program Sykes led to the state's Final Four as a player in 1999 was not lost on the coach.
The seven seniors on this year's 17-4, 10-2 team were in middle school the last time Mansfield Senior could hang a conference banner. The Tygers got it done by winning six of their last seven games, including a 10-point win against Lexington last week.
"This is big for (the seniors). It's their first one. It's my first one as the head coach. I am happy for these guys. We are going to enjoy it," Sykes said.
"Our seniors ... everybody ... everybody put in the work in the off-season. They put in the work during the season. I am so proud of everybody. (The conference title) was the first goal we wanted to accomplish this year.
"We will celebrate it tonight and then get back to the drawing board on Sunday and try to focus on a sectional championship."
REBOUNDING DOMINANCE: Key to the win was dominance on the glass. The Tygers had 15 offensive rebounds, outscoring the Arrows (15-7, 8-4) in second-chance points, 25-0, and points in the paint, 26-8.
"We got 15 offensive rebounds. That's the number we shoot for every day. We feel if we have 15 offensive rebounds, we have a chance to win the game. We did that tonight. Second-chance points were huge for us," Sykes said. "That was the plan ... attack the offensive glass. We did that tonight."
Ashland coach Jason Hess, whose team had won nine of 10 coming into Friday, credited the Tygers' work on the boards.
"You can't keep them off. You can't shut them out. It's just a matter of trying to minimize their opportunities," Hess said. "I thought we didn't do a good job of physically boxing them out. We just kind of stood in front of them at times. They went over the top and got some rebounds. They just rooted us out of there and were a little bit tougher inside."
Mansfield Senior got off to a fast start, leading 12-5 after one quarter, and maintained a 34-25 edge at halftime.
The Tygers built a 40-28 edge with 5:38 left in the third quarter, but the Arrows battled back and cut the deficit to 45-38 with 40 seconds left in the third. A triple by Mansfield Senior junior Roger Merrell with three seconds left rebuilt the lead to 48-38 and the Tygers never let the Arrows within single digits again.
Sykes said he knew Ashland, led by 28 points from 6-foot-5 senior Garrett Denbow, would not go away quietly. The Division I District 6 Player of the Year, Denbow did his damage despite being saddled with foul trouble that kept him on the bench for almost 12 minutes.
Denbow scored 17 of Ashland's 24 points in the fourth quarter.
"They have got some ballplayers over there and Coach Hess has them playing hard and doing all the right things," Sykes said. "I was nervous. We weren't finishing the game the right way."
Hess acknowledged his team's effort.
"I give Garrett a lot of credit. He kept playing, kept being aggressive even late in the game (with four fouls). I give our kids a lot of credit. Even though the (deficit) was double digits most of the fourth quarter, there was no quit in our group and they just kept playing hard," Hess said.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Senior wing Manny Bronson came off the bench to lead the Tygers with 15 points. Seniors Quan Hilory and Tavion Harris each had 12. Ten different Mansfield Senior players scored in the win.
In addition to Denbow's performance, Ashland got double-digit scoring from senior Klejhan Randleman (12) and freshman Luke Denbow (10).
Mansfield Senior shot 47 percent from the field (27-of-57), including eight of 20 triples. The Tygers were 11 of 18 from the foul line. Ashland shot 42 percent from the floor, including 9 of 18 on 3-pointers. The Arrows were 15 of 17 from the line.
Mansfield Senior outrebounded Ashland, 37-23. Senior Jakobe Reese had nine for the Tygers and and Bronson had seven. Garrett Denbow led Ashland with five.
Ashland committed 11 turnovers, compared to eight for the Tygers.
UP NEXT: This was the last regular-season game for both teams.
Mansfield Senior plays in the Division II tournament opener Wednesday at Bucyrus against Port Clinton. The Tygers are the No. 4 seed in a loaded 15-team district.
"It should be fun. There are 10 or 12 teams that could probably win the district. That's good motivation," Sykes said. "It's easy to get your guys to lock in when they know if we don't come to play, we can lose to this team."
Ashland plays its Division I tournament opener on Friday at Toledo Start, taking on Anthony Wayne.
"This was a tournament-type game tonight," Hess said, "(with) the physicality and the toughness and the pace we need to play at next week. This was as good as there is in terms of a warm-up for that."