By Joshua Stevens
The Cedarville Yellow Jackets lost another close game, this one against Lake Erie, in a 65-63 contest on Saturday. With the home loss, the Jackets (11-14, 6-12 G-MAC) were eliminated from G-MAC tournament contention. The Storm (13-13, 8-10) move up to seventh in the G-MAC standings.
In a messy first half where both teams had more turnovers than assists, the Jackets seemed to have the early edge. They forced some turnovers in the opening minutes and took advantage of them. Guard Grant Zawadzki was a large part of the first half success for the Jackets, he had 14 points and three steals in the first half to give the Jackets the lead for much of the first 20 minutes. Shooting 58 percent from the floor helped the Jackets lead by as many as nine.
The Jackets also struggled with some turnovers though. They had nine in the first half, and the Storm were able to keep it close because of them. They took their first lead of the game after hitting a 3-pointer with just under five minutes left in the half.
But the Jackets refused to go to the locker room down. Guard Colton Linkous hit a fade-away jumper after a nifty move put his defender on his back, and the Jackets went up 33-30 to end the half.
The teams traded punches in the first few minutes of the second half, with the lead going back and forth. But the Jackets continued to struggle with turnovers. They had 15 on the night, and they became limited on offense in the second half.
“We lost that game in the middle part of the second half. That’s been our struggle all year,” head coach Pat Estepp said.
After forward Gabriel Portillo hit a free throw to tie the game at 44 with 10 minutes left, the Storm took the lead back and went up by as many as eight.
Even with the offensive struggles in the second half, the Jackets had a chance to send the game to overtime. Forward Conner Tenhove cut the lead to two after a strong take to the basket, and Zawadzki later made his own take to tie the game with 20 seconds left.
But the Storm hit a floater with 1.7 seconds left on the clock to stun the home crowd, and the Jackets were unable to get a shot off at the buzzer.
TenHove and Zawadzki both had 22 points, but the Jackets were outscored in bench points 24-1. The Jackets also took just 43 shots on the night, with the Storm taking 65.
“It’s hard to beat a team that takes 22 more shots than you do,” Estepp said.
The Jackets needed the win tonight to keep their tournament hopes alive, but the loss keeps them in ninth place, and Kentucky Wesleyan (14-15, 8-11 G-MAC) clinched the final spot. The Jackets end the season with home games against Davis & Elkins on Thursday and Alderson Broaddus on Saturday.
“Today was a huge game as far as getting into the tournament,” Estepp said, “and we just didn’t get enough stops, get enough rebounds, or make enough plays on offense to get it done.”