by Alan Brads
“We had a phrase this week,” Cedarville coach Pat Estepp said. “Err on the side of guts.”
Trailing Kentucky Wesleyan by a point with 3.2 seconds left, an exhausted Grant Whisman had nothing left but guts.
Jacob Drees threw a 79-foot pass to Jayvon Maughmer, who turned and dropped a pass to Brayden Sipple for a layup. But Sipple’s layup missed the mark, and there was no time for a proper rebound. Whisman’s put-back attempt hung on the rim, taunting the 1,200 in attendance who didn’t know what would happen next.
The ball lazily fell through the hoop and mayhem erupted at Callan Athletic Center.
Players and coaches rushed onto the floor, spilling papers all over the court. Fans from the front rows of the student section spilled onto the court joining the celebration.
Whistles blew frantically calling for a review to see if the shot happened before the horn, but screaming fans drowned them out.
The scrappy late game heroics led Cedarville to a 77-76 win in the final game of the regular season, good enough to finish 6th in the G-Mac.
A buzzer-beating, ear-piercing win would have shocked any fans who left at halftime, thinking the game to be uncompetitive.
Cedarville started the game with an avalanche of drained 3-pointers, which guided them to an early 35-11 lead, but a pesky Panthers team refused to go away, gradually chipping away at Cedarville’s advantage.
“I thought we started tremendously,” Estepp said. “We were defending well, we just didn’t finish the half well, or start the second half well, and that’s why it got so tight. But our guys made plays when they had to.”
Cedarville’s basket had a lid on it to open the second half, and Kentucky Wesleyan continually narrowed the gap. With 7:21 left to play Kentucky Wesleyan’s Antonio Thomas drilled a three, tying the game for the first time since tipoff.
The guards Thomas and Jordan Roland manufactured the Panther’s comeback, accounting for 47 points.
The exhausted teams battled down the stretch, all seven ties and all six lead changes of the game occurred with less than eight minutes left.
A defensive foul that took Kentucky Wesleyan to the free throw line with three seconds left trailing 75-74 looked like it would spell the end for the Yellow Jackets.
“Even with a mistake with the foul at the end, that would have finished a lot of teams. But our guys didn’t quit. They were just trying to make a play and by God’s grace they were able to.”
Estepp noted multiple times that after a four game losing streak, and minimal substitutions through the second half the team had nothing left but guts, and guts was enough.
The Yellow Jackets’ two senior players, Tytist Dean and Bryan Vander Have checked in during the first half of senior day, and Dean played crucial minutes defending Kentucky Wesleyan’s guards. Dean knocked down a three, which would be Cedarville’s only points from a non-starter all night.
“I was really glad to get them in and get some great minutes from them.” Estepp said.
Vander Have arrived at Cedarville as a walk-on, but has earned athletic scholarship money during his career.
“Bryan has a great spirit about him and he’s a great leader,” Estepp said.
Dean arrived at Cedarville last year as a graduate transfer from Liberty.
“Tytist is a servant, “Estepp said. “Whatever we need he’ll do. He’s bought into the junkyard role. He defends and rebounds really well for a guard.”
Team manager and senior Quinn Coupland was also honored alongside Dean and Vander Have for his three years of service as part of the team.
A four-team cluster of schools that stand 11-9 in G-Mac play inhabit the bottom four qualifying spots for the G-Mac tournament, with Cedarville landing in sixth place after applying tiebreakers.
The Yellow Jackets will open the tournament on the road at third seeded Hillsdale on Tuesday night seeking to repeat, or even improve last year’s improbable run to the conference championship game.
Alan Brads is a sophomore journalism student and frequent contributor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums and speaking Spanish, and watches Buckeye football like his life depends on it.
Photo by Roberto Moran