Vincent wins in final seconds to earn spot in Elite Eight

Published 7:58 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HANCEVILLE – Against Tuscaloosa County Central back on Nov. 27, Ryshod Keith ran a beautifully designed in-bounds play that started with him in-bounding the ball on one end of the floor, but ended with him missing a layup after on the other end.

In the end, Vincent won that game 59-44, and it didn’t matter, but when he ran the same play again on a much bigger stage in the Sweet 16 against No. 3 ranked Red Bay at Wallace State Community College on Friday, Feb. 15, his team was trailing 40-39 and it was a must make or the Yellow Jackets’ season would come to an end.

In-bounding the ball with 10.8 seconds to play, Ryshod Keith tossed it to teammate Kaleb Wilson, before immediately taking off up the floor to get passed his defender. Youngblood then lobbed the ball back to Keith near mid-court, almost like a touch pass from a quarterback on the run.

Keith caught the ball, turned up floor and sprinted straight to the basket with the final seconds ticking off the clock. With two defenders in hot pursuit and two more camped in the paint, Keith continued toward the basket with no fear, and unlike the game against TC Central, this time, he ran right by the defender on he left side of the goal and laid the ball in to give Vincent a 41-40 victory and a spot in the Elite Eight.

“That’s actually a play we run in practice all the time,” head coach John Hadder said after the game before his players nodded with agreeance. “Once I saw him kind of separate from the defender and catch it on the move, I felt good.

“What you worry about initially is can you cleanly get it in and get it to him on the move. When he caught it on the move, the only thing I thought was who is going to help off, and they didn’t really bring any help.”

“I was used to that play because we had run it earlier in the year, but this time when I saw it open up, I made the right play,” Keith said.

After forcing a turnover on Red Bay’s final attempt up the court with 4.2 seconds left, most Vincent’s players went crazy, jumping around, hugging each other, while the team’s only senior, Chris Hardie, just sprinted from one end of the court to the other like Usain Bolt trying to win a 100-meter sprint in world-record time simply holding up one finger to the sky.

Shortly after, Hardie broke down in tears, showing what the victory meant to him and the Yellow Jackets, before embracing in a hug with his head coach.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Hadder said after the game. “The last few weeks this team has kind of started coming on and we feel like we are playing our best basketball right now. I’m really proud of them.”

With the win, Vincent redeemed last year’s 62-33 loss to Lanett and are headed back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015, when the team advanced to the Final Four. The Yellow Jackets will now look to earn their third Final Four appearance under Hadder.

Vincent was able to overcome a slow start, as well as giving up a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter, in large part to a strong defensive pressure.

Aside from costly mistakes from the Jackets with late turnovers and bad fouls in the final two minutes, Red Bay struggled to get any sort of offensive rhythm throughout the game shooting just 11-32 from the field and 3-13 from beyond the arc.

It was a slow start that began in the opening period with the two teams combining to make one of 11 shots from the field. Red Bay slowed the pace of the game with long possessions and went 1-6 from the field, while Vincent got limited chances and went 0-5 to fall behind 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

“We were really passive,” Hadder said. “We felt like we were being way too passive offensively early, so we challenged our guys to be more aggressive. We didn’t really feel like we were making them guard us.”

That’s when Keith first made a statement in the game, three quarters before his game-winner.

After being challenged to play more aggressive, Keith came out firing in the second quarter and put up seven points thanks to two impressive contested mid-range shots, followed by a steal that lead to an and-1 to all of a sudden give Vincent a 9-6 lead.

The rest of the quarter was tight, but Malik Hamilton was able to hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to give the Yellow Jackets a 14-10 lead at the half.

While being challenged to be more aggressive again at the half by their head coach, Jackson McGinnis didn’t let his coach down in the third quarter.

McGinnis came out strong and powerful in the period, driving to the basket on the Jackets’ first three possessions picking up three consecutive authoritative layups, the last of which was a put back off his own miss to put Vincent up 20-14.

“I was just trying to take it to them and finish off two feet,” McGinnis said. “I wanted to either make a layup or force them to foul me.”

Red Bay did answer with a 6-0 run to tie the game at 20-20, but the Jackets closed the quarter on a 5-0 run behind a 3-pointer from Hamilton and a floater from Keith to take a 25-20 lead into the final quarter.

Vincent did eventually extend its lead to 30-23, but due to some bad fouls in the final couple of minutes and turnovers, the Tigers climbed back into it.

For the most part, however, the Yellow Jackets handled Red Bay’s full-court press well the entire game, only turning it over twice—both in the final two minutes—the entire night.

While Red Bay took the lead thanks to four consecutive made free throws off bad fouls, Vincent was able to get the final basket in a wild back-and-forth affair after the lead changed hands six times in the final 3:26 of the game.

Vincent finished the game 17-31 from the field, a solid 54.8-percent mark, while shooting 2-5 from beyond the arc and 5-9 from the free throw line.

While Red Bay shot 15-20 from the free throw line, the Tigers couldn’t overcome Vincent’s hounding defense, shooting 11-32 from the field and 3-13 from beyond the arc.

The Jackets have started slow in several games this season, but overcame that in this one by shooting 50-percent or better in the final three quarters.

Vincent was led by Keith, a junior, with 15 points and six rebounds, while McGinnis, a fellow junior, posted 12 points and three rebounds. Malik Hamilton added seven points, while Wilson, Hardie and Youngblood all scored as well despite foul trouble.

Vincent will now take on the winner of Sumiton Christian and No. 4 Tarrant in the Elite Eight on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 5:45 p.m.