By Josh Decker
The No. 6 seed Cedarville Yellow Jackets pulled off an impressive 68-66 upset to stun No. 2 Hillsdale in a G-MAC semifinal matchup Friday night. The victory sends Cedarville, 19-11 overall and 14-8 in conference play, to the G-MAC championship for the second straight year and marks the first time the Jackets have ever defeated Hillsdale.
With Cedarville and Hillsdale tied at 66-66 and only five seconds left on the clock, senior Branden Maughmer perfectly timed a steal off an inbounds play and took the ball down the court for a layup with only one second remaining to give the Jackets the go-ahead lead at 68-66. The Chargers heaved up a prayer as time expired, but it fell short and the Cedarville bench stormed the court in celebration.
“I could not be prouder,” head coach Pat Estepp said about his team’s performance.
Branden Maughmer highlighted the Cedarville offense, pouring in 24 points, including the game-winning shot, to go with a team-high seven rebounds and five steals.
His brother Jayvon dropped 15 points on an efficient 6-8 shooting from the field and Isaiah Speelman added 11 points, including two key three-pointers down the stretch.
The game was tightly contested for the first twelve minutes as Cedarville jumped out to a narrow 20-18 lead.
The Jackets then picked up the defensive intensity, shutting down Hillsdale’s offense and going on a 12-2 run to extend the advantage to twelve by the under-four media timeout.
The stellar first-half defensive effort gave the Yellow Jackets a 36-24 lead going into halftime. Through twenty minutes, the Jackets were dominating the Chargers 20-8 in the paint and also commanding the boards 17-12.
Coming out of the break, Cedarville’s offense went cold, scoring only one basket in fourteen possessions and allowing Hillsdale to chip away at the deficit. The Jackets seemed to have no answer on the defensive end and the Chargers grabbed a 50-49 lead with eight and a half minutes to play.
Speelman drilled a pair of clutch three-pointers for the Jackets in the final few minutes, first hitting a triple to bring the Jackets to within two points with 2:54 remaining and then nailing another massive shot from behind-the-arc to keep Cedarville alive with 41 seconds left and making it a one-possession game.
After the Yellow Jackets forced a key stop defensively, Branden Maugher drained a jump shot to level the score at 66 apiece with only ten seconds remaining on the clock.
Hillsdale then dribbled up to half-court and spent a timeout, and on the ensuing inbounds play, Maughmer stole the ball with five seconds left and calmly laid it up and in on a breakaway to secure the 68-66 victory for Cedarville and a shot at the G-MAC championship.
“I overheard two of their players saying what they were about to do,” Maughmer explained after his game-winning shot. “I knew where the ball was about to go, so I just jumped it and ended up getting a hand on the ball for the steal.”
The Yellow Jackets will clash with No. 1 seed Walsh on Saturday afternoon for the conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. Tip-off is set for 2:00 P.M. on the campus of Walsh University.
“It means everything to get another shot to win the G-MAC championship,” Maughmer said. “We know we can beat anybody who steps on the floor with us if we just show up ready to compete.”
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.