By Josh Decker
The Cedarville men’s basketball team has earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time in school history.
“I am grateful to God for this opportunity and thrilled for our program,” head coach Pat Estepp said. “This group has put in the hard work and sacrifice to get to this point and they have a lot to be proud of.”
The 64-team field is divided into eight regions, with 23 spots determined by conference tournament champions and the remaining 41 positions being filled by at-large bids.
Cedarville is the No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region and will battle No. 3 Hillsdale in a first-round matchup set for Friday, March 11th on the campus of Walsh University. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.
Cedarville is fresh off a win against Hillsdale, having stunned the Chargers 68-66 last Friday night after scoring seven points in the final 41 seconds. Isaiah Speelman drilled a triple before Branden Maughmer perfectly timed a steal off an inbounds play with five seconds left and took the ball down the court for the game-winning layup with one second remaining on the clock. That shot was enough to advance the Jackets to the conference championship for the second straight season.
The schools are two of four G-MAC teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament, as top-seeded Walsh will face off against No. 8 Davenport and No. 7 Findlay will play No. 2 Ferris State.
Cedarville’s strength of schedule and key wins against other top teams in the region played a major role in the team securing a berth in the tournament.
The Jackets picked up key non-conference victories over Indianapolis University and Southern Indiana early on in the season. Cedarville also swept the season series against G-MAC rival Findlay and beat Walsh once in the regular season. In the conference tournament, the Yellow Jackets dominated Ashland before upsetting Hillsdale and falling just short of the G-MAC championship against Walsh.
“These guys have put in the work and now it’s time to go out and play our best basketball,” assistant coach Terry Futrell said.”
Midwest regional semifinals are scheduled for Saturday with the championship set for next Monday. The winner will advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana, which will begin on March 22.
“We’re really excited about it,” senior Conner TenHove said. “It’s something we have been working towards for a long time and I think we have a chance to go deep and do something special.”
Josh Decker is a senior 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.