By Josh Decker
The Cedarville Yellow Jackets capped off a historic 2021-2022 season with an impressive postseason run that ended only after Cedarville fell to rival Hillsdale in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Entering the year, the Jackets, who returned with a fully reloaded roster from last year, were picked fifth in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
It was a slow start, however, with losses to then-ranked No. 6 in the country Truman State and unranked Quincy. Cedarville responded by defeating the University of Indianapolis on the road and taking care of business against Southern Indiana in the home opener. The Yellow Jackets also captured key victories against conference foes Ashland and Findlay.
The team then traveled to Florida over Christmas break to play a pair of games in the Florida Southern Classic. In the first matchup against St. Leo, senior Branden Maughmer drilled a triple at the buzzer to force overtime and propel the Jackets to a thrilling 96-93 victory. Cedarville followed that up with a solid 82-73 result over Florida Southern to leave the Sunshine State undefeated.
The Jackets finished the regular season 17-11 overall and with a 12-8 mark in conference play. That was good enough to earn Cedarville the No. 6 seed in the G-MAC tournament, though with only six teams making the tournament this year, the Jackets were considered a long-shot to make a run as the lowest seed in the bracket.
After splitting the regular season series, Cedarville faced off against No. 3 Ashland on the road in the first round.
After picking up a dominant 70-55 win over the Eagles, the Yellow Jackets traveled to the campus of Walsh University to battle rival No. 2 Hillsdale.
In one of the season’s biggest highlights, Branden Maughmer perfectly timed a steal off an inbounds play with five seconds left 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 as the Jackets stunned Hillsdale and earned a spot in the G-MAC championship game.
Cedarville finished as runners-up in the championship for the second consecutive year, but the team’s strong resume earned the Yellow Jackets a bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time in program history.
“I am thrilled about our performance this season for our program and especially for our seniors,” head coach Pat Estepp said. “This group has put a lot of hard work in and sacrifice.”
Despite a 68-61 loss to the Chargers in the first round, it was a memorable season with a veteran-laden team that has built a lasting bond over the past few years.
“My favorite part of playing at Cedarville has been the relationships I’ve built,” Conner TenHove said. “To accomplish something that our program has never done before by making the NCAA Division II Tournament was awesome, and to do it with the group of guys we have was extra special.”
“I love basketball, but my favorite part was building relationships with guys that have become my brothers,” Maughmer said. “I have loved being around this group of guys every day.”
The Jackets will lose five 1,000-point career scorers going into next season, as seniors Conner TenHove, Quinton Green, Branden Maughmer, Isaiah Speelman, and Kollin VanHorn all depart the program.
Both Maughmer and Green have decided to use their extra year of eligibility and enter the transfer portal with the goal of playing Division I next year.
“It’s tough to put into words what this senior class has meant to our program,” Estepp said. “They are tough, competitive, and have a lot to be proud of.”
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.