By Josh Decker
No. 6 seed Cedarville battled to an impressive 70-55 win over No. 3 Ashland in a first-round G-MAC tournament matchup.
The victory also marks head coach Pat Estepp’s 250th career win.
The Yellow Jackets move on in the G-MAC tournament to face off against rival and No. 2 seed Hillsdale in a semifinal matchup on Friday, March 5th. Game-time is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. on the campus of Walsh University as Cedarville looks to advance to the conference championship for the second straight season.
The Yellow Jackets, 18-11 overall and 13-8 in conference play, set the tone defensively early on en route to bottling up the Eagles’ shooters and controlling the pace of the game.
“I’m proud of our guys for their focus and effort tonight,” Estepp said. “I thought we played tough, stayed aggressive throughout the game, and defended pretty well.”
Senior Branden Maughmer paced a very balanced Jackets’ offense, pouring in 16 points while going 12-14 from the free-throw line.
Conner TenHove netted 13 points on 5-8 shooting from the floor while grabbing a team-high nine rebounds, and Kollin Van Horn added 12 points on an efficient 4-5 from the field.
“It was a big win,” TenHove said. “We were locked in and played connected on both ends of the floor.”
Cedarville jumped out to a quick 16-9 advantage, but Ashland rallied back to take a 23-22 lead with 7:01 left on the clock in the half.
The Jackets’ three-point shooting sparked a 16-7 run to close out the half as Grant Whisman, Quinton Green, and Isaiah Speelman all drilled shots from behind-the-arc.
Cedarville led the hosts 38-30 going into halftime and were scoring at an efficient 60% from the field to go with a red-hot 50% mark from deep.
Coming out of the break, however, neither team got into a rhythm offensively.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets began to pick up the intensity, allowing Ashland to score only nine points in the first thirteen minutes of the second half.
Cedarville’s defense, combined with a commanding 22-9 run, allowed the visitors to build up the advantage to as much as 21 with seven minutes to play and the score at a lopsided 60-39.
The Jackets cruised out the final few minutes of the game, with Branden Maughmer sinking a pair of free throws with 1:02 remaining to polish off the 70-55 victory.
The Jackets’ aggressiveness and toughness were major factors, forcing the Eagles into foul trouble in the second half as Cedarville calmly converted 19-22 free throws in the contest.
The Yellow Jackets dominated the boards, ending the night with a 37-22 advantage, and finished the game shooting a solid 47 percent from the field.
“We just need to stay together as a team,” TenHove said about the upcoming matchup against Hillsdale. “We are really excited and feel confident going into the game.”
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.