Yellow Jackets Win G-MAC Tournament Opener

by Tim Miller

The No. 4 Cedarville Yellow Jackets returned to the G-MAC Tournament after a one-year hiatus and won 81-77 over No. 5 Ohio Dominican on Tuesday night. The Yellow Jackets led for the majority of the game, but didn’t clearly have an advantage until the very end against the defending conference tournament champions.

The Yellow Jackets were lethal from deep, sniping 62 percent of their shots from behind the arc. All five starters were in double figures for Cedarville.

“Our starters were really good,” head coach Pat Estepp said after the win. “They did a tremendous job getting us off to a good start.”

Freshman guard Branden Maughmer led the Yellow Jackets with 22 points and five rebounds. Freshman forward Kollin Van Horn added 14 points and senior guard Grant Zawadzki was right behind with 13. Freshman swingman Quinton Green added 11 points and sophomore Conner TenHove was the last Yellow Jacket in double figures with 10 points.

Green found his way into the starting lineup for the first time in his young career and delivered five of the Yellow Jackets first nine points. Cedarville led for most of the first few minutes and took its first two-possession lead at 13-8 with 14:10 left off a saucy layup by Maughmer.

Cedarville’s offense got hot during that point, sprinting to a 19-13 margin thanks to five made shots in a row. The Yellow Jackets took a 22-13 advantage after freshman forward Isaiah Speelman netted a triple that junior guard Demond Parker celebrated before it even went through the cup. ODU stayed on the Yellow Jackets’ heels, making a triple on the next possession.

The Panthers continued to fight with Cedarville, but the Yellow Jackets wouldn’t let ODU come within a possession. After a few minutes of cycling through made shots by both teams, Maughmer drilled a pull-up triple as the shot clock buzzed to put Cedarville up 28-22 with 6:10 remaining.

Cedarville held its lead into halftime, owning a 32-27 advantage after 20 minutes. Maughmer was the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer with nine points on 4-5 shooting. TenHove and Speelman had six points each, and TenHove added three assists. Cedarville shot the ball well, making 52 percent of its shots from the field and 67 percent from deep.

The Yellow Jackets should have felt lucky to hold the lead, as Ohio Dominican, one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, was plus-four on the glass. The Panthers were awful from the field, making 39 percent of its shots. They were even worse from behind the arc, converting on just 23 percent of their attempts.

“We challenged them at halftime,” Estepp said. “We weren’t rebounding great and we didn’t take great care of the ball. Holding one of the best rebounding teams in the country to one offensive rebound in the second half was tremendous.”

Both offenses began the second half with success, but ODU was a little better, bringing the game within one point with 16:59 left. The made shot sparked the Panthers’ bench, as even their coach decided to clown around by slapping the floor like a scrappy point guard who puts the clamps on your favorite team’s best scorer.

The Panthers were able to take a lead shortly there after and kept the game tight. With under 12 minutes left, the game was tied at 48 after an ODU triple.

Ohio Dominican gained momentum for a short time while holding the lead, but Cedarville took it right back. Maughmer came up with an athletic offensive rebound and layup to put Cedarville up 56-51 with 8:24 on the clock. On the defensive end, the Yellow Jackets forced a jump ball to regain possession. The string of plays reignited the Yellow Jackets at a crucial point in the game.

With 7:08 left, TenHove netted a trifecta to put Cedarville up 59-53. Cedarville’s offense continued to play just a step ahead of Ohio Dominican, and Green brought the house down with what quite possibly will serve as the dunk of the year for the Yellow Jackets. The monster slam caused Callan to collectively combust and supplied Cedarville with its biggest lead of the game at 66-55.

After a timeout with under five minutes left, Cedarville clearly wanted to slow the pace to protect its lead. Zawadzki walked the ball up the court and the Yellow Jackets melted the clock with each possession.

Zawadzki picked up a steal and made an easy layup on the other end with just over a minute left to ice the game.

The Panthers used timeouts after this point for any shot to get back in the game and made it interesting, hitting a triple with less than a second left to pull the game within three. Parker was fouled and made a free throw in order to finally put the game to bed with a second left.

“I’m proud of our guys. We had to really work hard for that one,” Estepp said.

Cedarville’s next stop in the G-MAC Tournament is against No. 1 Findlay on Friday. The Oilers are the sixth-ranked team in all of NCAA Division II, but one of their three losses this season came against the Yellow Jackets. Findlay will host the remainder of the G-MAC Tournament.

“They’re really good, they’re really well coached, and they’re tough at home,” Estepp said of Findlay. “We’re gonna have to go out and give it everything we’ve got. We’ve got nothing to lose so we have to play loose.”

Tim Miller is a junior marketing major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about supplemental insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.

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