EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Three years of hard work and determination led William Jewell to their best week of basketball in a long time. The Cardinals began their Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament campaign with a victory over Lindenwood in the first round on Monday, Feb. 28.
This opening round win was the first ever GLVC Tournament victory for the program since they joined the conference in 2011. On Thursday, March 3, the Cardinals were off to Illinois for the quarterfinals of the conference tournament where they faced the top seed, Southwest Baptist.
The Bearcats topped the Cardinals by double digits twice in the regular season, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from believing that they had a chance to win. Jewell jumped out an early 11-point lead and held on for the upset victory by a score of 73-71.
The win for Jewell earned them a date in the semifinals of the GLVC Tournament against Missouri-St. Louis. The energy from the Cardinals from the get-go was incredible as they showed belief and fight. Their desire to win looked more like an undefeated team rather than a team that had lost 14 times entering the game against the Tritons.
When the ball was tipped to begin the semifinals on Saturday, March 5, Missouri-St. Louis jumped out to an early lead that they held for the entire first half. The Tritons used a selection of shots to their advantage from long 2-point jump shots to the occasional 3-pointer.
The Cardinals trimmed the lead to two points with under 10 minutes to go as junior Trey Shannon nailed a triple on the right wing to create a 5-0 run. But, the Tritons answered back with a 5-0 run of their own.
Whenever the Cardinals scored the ball, Missouri-St. Louis had a response which catapulted them to 31-21 lead at the halftime break. Jewell’s head coach Chris McCabe shared that the team withstood the storm that the Tritons pressed upon them.
“There were some chances for it to be even bigger than 10,” McCabe said. “We wanted to come in here and keep it at 10 so we could just take a breath. They were imposing their style on us and we were trying hard, but we needed to tactically do a couple of different things.”
The result of that conversation at the halftime break was enormous as the Cardinals looked like a new team in the second half. Jewell set off on a 5-0 run in the first three minutes of the second half to cut the lead to just five points. The Tritons answered and pushed the lead back to nine points.
Jewell would not give up, though. With under 10 minutes to play, the Cardinals went on a 11-4 run to cut the lead to two points. It was through strong defense and unselfish passing that gave way to the long run for the Cardinals.
McCabe’s team used aggressive play inside the lane with junior Heri Tshiyoyo who would often kick it outside to an open teammate. The usual suspect of a Tshiyoyo pass was senior Mason Alexander who played all 40 minutes for the Cardinals. Alexander was quick with the ball and even faster when pulling the trigger for a 3-pointer. He led the team with 16 points, 12 of which coming from 3-point land.
The defense was one of the more impressive parts of the 11-4 run that lasted around five minutes of game time. The communication was key along with the sliding of the feet that led to tough shots for the taller Tritons squad. The player that helped lead the Cardinals in the defensive department was senior John Zimmerman.
“We fought, no matter what the score was,” Zimmerman said. “We were down 10, but we knew, we were in good shape. We pride ourselves since day one that defense wins championships. You can look at our roster and see that we are an undersized team, we had to get stops and we did.”
With under a minute left to play, the Tritons had the ball leading two points. They bled the shot clock down to a couple of seconds before hoisting a contested 3-pointer at the top of the key. Shannon was there to provide the coverage against the long triple.
The shot clinked off of the rim and landed in the hands of Tshiyoyo who provided a clean outlet pass to Alexander who began the offense for Jewell. With the clock ticking, the Cardinals created a beautiful open shot that saw Jordan Jermain curl off of a screen set by Grant Stubbs.
Jermain shot the 3-pointer, but it fell off of the back iron. The Tritons gathered the rebound and Missouri-St. Louis would hit their free-throws to ice the game. The Tritons would go on to win the GLVC Semifinals 57-53 in a game that felt so close for the Cardinals.
“Two-point ball game with less than a minute left, can’t ask for much more than that in a GLVC semifinal,” Zimmerman said. “Shots just didn’t get made and that’s basketball.”
The loss for the Cardinals ended their season, but this historic year of winning two conference tournament games along with tying their best finish in the GLVC regular season is an important step for the Jewell program. A step that makes them known throughout the conference, a step that McCabe has been trying to take since he became the head coach in 2019.
“So, you ask what this week has been like, this week has been satisfying because of the joy that you can see from your players for the work that they have done since September of 2019,” McCabe said. “They didn’t know that they were potentially setting themselves up for these situations.”
McCabe shared that his team wanted to keep playing, obviously. But, he explained that there is an enormous amount of pride for their school, the team and the way they carried themselves this entire season.
A long season that was filled with hardship and joy has ended with history for William Jewell.
“This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, knocking off of the one seed. That locker room after the game is something that I will remember forever,” Zimmerman said. “The whole GLVC respects us now, they know who William Jewell is.”