Men’s Basketball Recap: Jackets Fall Just Short of G-MAC Championship

by Josh Decker

The Yellow Jackets rounded out one of the most challenging seasons to date with an impressive tournament run that ended only after Cedarville fell in the 2020-2021 Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) championship game.

No. 6 Cedarville grinded out a thrilling 76-73 victory over No. 2 Findlay in the semifinals, but the Jackets’ championship hopes were dashed by a 77-59 loss to Malone in the final.

Entering the year, the Yellow Jackets were picked second in the G-MAC Preseason Coaches Poll behind only Findlay University. Cedarville had the luxury of returning almost its entire lineup, including all five of the Jackets’ top scorers from last year.

There were challenges early on, however. COVID-19 protocols delayed the start of the season, and then a positive COVID-19 test in the program forced Cedarville to cancel an exhibition matchup against Dayton University. Multiple conference games were cancelled due to COVID-19, and the team was quarantined twice throughout the year.

“The hardest thing to overcome was just the inconsistency and uncertainty of the whole season,” explained junior forward Isaiah Speelman. “The stopping and starting and not knowing when we would play was something we’ve never experienced.”

A five-game winning streak midway through the season, a 90-84 win in overtime that stunned then-ranked NABC Division II No. 6 Findlay, and a postseason run that saw Cedarville make it all the way to the G-MAC championship game were some much-needed highlights for the Jackets amidst such inconsistency. The Yellow Jackets finished the year with a 12-9 overall record and were the runners-up in the G-MAC tournament.

“It was a challenging season but also super fun,” said senior forward Conner TenHove.

“We didn’t have the greatest record,” star junior guard Branden Maughmer said. “But we did not let that stop us from getting to the championship. Being the sixth seed [in the tournament] and viewed as the underdog, we just never let that affect us.” 

The entire starting lineup averaged double-figures offensively during the season.

“The perseverance our players showed was tremendous,” Jackets head coach Pat Estepp said. “I am proud of our team for the fight they showed.”

The most notable absence from the team next year will be the self-proclaimed Towel Gang, a group of former JV players who have become an integral part of the varsity squad. Seniors Andy Spurr, Andrew Stein, and Adam Standley were a constant source of energy for the Jackets’ bench.

Spurr said, “It has been an incredible experience. It was definitely tough at times, but it was very rewarding with the brotherhood that was created while being on the team.” 

The Towel Gang ran scout for the team ahead of games so the starters could practice playing against the opposing team’s sets.

Perhaps the biggest contribution Towel Gang made, however, was the leadership the upperclassmen brought and the friendships made in the locker-room.

“We are really grateful for those guys,” Estepp said. “They were able to lay aside any personal goals for the good of our team, and that is a very rare quality.”

“I love those guys because they gave everything they had in practice and in games, but they expected absolutely nothing in return,” said assistant coach Pat Bain.

Branden Maughmer talked about how important the trio of friends has been in his life, both on the court and off the court.

“I have gained three brothers for the rest of my life, and they have also helped me on my walk with Christ,” said Maughmer.

“99 percent of people have no idea the sacrifices those guys made to help advance the program,” TenHove said. “I’ll miss their energy that they brought to our team every single day.”

Looking ahead to next season, Cedarville will return its top eight scorers in the rotation, which is an advantage few teams can boast about.

TenHove, who is taking advantage of the NCAA’s decision to grant athletes an extra season of eligibility due to COVID-19, explained how promising he thinks the roster could be next season. 

“I expect us to win the conference tournament and have the best year as a team we have had in my time here.”

“We are looking forward to next year and being able to practice and have a normal schedule, Lord willing,” Estepp said. “If we have a good offseason in the weight room and work on getting better, we will have a chance to do something special next season.”

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.

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