by Josh Decker
The No. 6 Cedarville Yellow Jackets’ used a strong offensive outing and a couple key defensive stops to defeat No. 2 Findlay 76-73 in a hard-fought semifinal. The victory punches Cedarville’s ticket to the 2020-2021 G-MAC men’s championship, which will be the team’s first appearance in the title game since 2013.
“It’s something really special, and it’s a special group of guys,” remarked Conner TenHove after the win. “It means a lot to us.”
The Yellow Jackets’ finished the night with all five starters in double-figures offensively.
Quinton Green paced the Jackets’ offense for the second straight game with 17 points on 4-5 shooting from the field to go with 7-9 shooting from the free throw line. Junior Isaiah Speelman dropped 15 points in 35 minutes of action, including three triples.
Senior Conner TenHove and junior Kollin VanHorn each added 14 points, and junior Branden Maughmer scored 13 in 39 minutes while leading the team in rebounding with seven boards.
VanHorn went to work in the paint early, dropping in the Jackets’ first bucket of the game, and Cedarville jumped out to an early 6-5 lead by the first media timeout of the half.
The two team’s offenses did not stay quiet for long, as the teams traded baskets and Findlay took the lead.
Back-to-back buckets by Speelman and a jumper by Green pulled Cedarville to within three with 10 minutes to play in the half and the score at 18-15.
Both the Jackets’ and the Oilers’ were red-hot from the field, and despite the Yellow Jackets’ getting baskets seven straight possessions, the score was knotted at 34.
Three straight turnovers to end the half, however, put Cedarville down 36-34 going into the locker-room.
The Jackets’ shot 48 percent from the field in the first twenty minutes, but were only 2-7, or 29 percent from behind-the-arc. Cedarville held a slight 14-13 edge on the glass, and were even with the Oilers in points in the paint with 14 each.
The Jackets’ started the second half with another seven straight possessions resulting in points, capped off by two straight triples from TenHove to give Cedarville a 50-44 advantage at the under-16 media timeout.
The Jackets’ extended the lead to double digits with 12 minutes to go in the game and the score at 57-46.
A Branden Maughmer 3-pointer gave Cedarville its largest lead of the game at 12 points, but Findlay was not going to go away easily.
The Oilers’ cut the deficit to 69-67 with just under four minutes remaining. Head coach Pat Estepp preached the importance of poise to his players in the huddle, and stressed getting stops to close out the game.
Key free throws down the stretch proved to be the difference in the game, and after Maugmher drilled a pair to give the Jackets’ a 73-70 lead, Findlay responded with a quick triple to tie the game with 56 seconds left.
After a timeout in which Estepp drew up a play for the Jackets, TenHove drew a foul going up for a shot in the paint, and managed to convert 1-2 from the stripe to give Cedarville a slim one-point advantage.
One more stop was all that stood between the Yellow Jackets’ and a spot in the G-MAC championship, but Findlay’s Tommy Schmock drove into the lane and drew a foul with three seconds to play. The one-and-one free throw bounced off the rim and Quinton Green snagged the board before being fouled.
After Green calmly hit both free throws, Findlay had one last chance to get a bucket, but after attempting to heave the ball down the court, a deep triple missed the mark and the Jackets’ hung on to complete the 76-73 upset.
Cedarville finished the game shooting an even 50 percent from the floor, and an impressive 8-17, or 47 percent, from behind-the-arc. The Jackets’ were also 20-26 from the free throw line, which was key to the win as Findlay was only 8-15 as a team from the stripe.
Findlay did lead in rebounds with a 30-29 margin, and the points in the paint were equal with both sides totaling 30 down low.
“We have a great deal of respect for Findlay,” said head coach Pat Estepp. “I thought the biggest thing for us was keeping our composure and our poise throughout the game.”
Cedarville will have a quick turnaround as the Jackets’ prepare for a matchup against No. 4 Malone in the G-MAC championship. The game is set to be played on Saturday, March 6th at Hillsdale College at 4:00 p.m. as the Jackets’ look to build on the momentum and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.
“This year has been crazy and we’ve had a ton of highs and lows,” said Isaiah Speelman after the game. “It’s been about who can stay mentally tough through it all, and our guys believe in each other.”
Josh Decker is a junior Sport Business Management major, and a sports reporter for Cedars. He loves playing sports with friends, and spends much of his free time as a student assistant for the Cedarville men’s basketball team.