Vincent hopes to learn from Elite Eight loss

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HANCEVILLE – After a thrilling win to earn a spot in the Elite Eight, Vincent’s basketball team was flying high, but on Tuesday, Feb. 19, a young Yellow Jackets’ team got a valuable learning experience.

Going up against their second consecutive top-four opponent in Tanner, Vincent got away from what got the team to that point, and despite leading 20-19 at the half, the Rattlers came out and capitalized on several advantages in the second half to eventually pull away for 46-33 victory to advance to the Final Four.

Vincent not only held the lead at the half despite not playing its usual game, but was still within seven points midway through the final period, making the Jackets wonder what could have been, as they looked like the better team, but just never seemed to fully settle into playing their game.

“The team that should have won, won,” head coach John Hadder said after the game. “They outplayed us in just about every way. We were selfish offensively. We never looked right offensively tonight because we never wanted the ball out of our hands.”

That struggle offensively was in part due to a team facing adversity in the second half in foul trouble trying to press and make things happen, but ball movement disappeared and wild shots were put up, which led to an 8-41 mark from the field in the game, making just three field goals in the second half alone.

“One of the things we talked about before the game about what wins is being unselfish and sharing the ball,” Hadder said. “We did not want to do that at times tonight.”

It was also a team that saw its two physical presences in the paint get into foul trouble early. The team’s only senior, Chris Hardie, picked up three fouls in the first half, and then ended up fouling out with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Junior Jackson McGinnis, the tallest player and an aggressive driver, had two in the first half and four the majority of the second half, which led to more tentative play.

“When we got in foul trouble, it started causing our substitutions to get out of whack a little bit and we had some combinations out there that we don’t normally play,” Hadder said. “It’s all a credit to them and their play and aggressiveness though. They did what they needed to do and played great. Anytime they went on a run, our body language dropped, but that’s a credit to the way Tanner played tonight.”

Early in the game, Vincent looked a little shaky out of the gate after falling behind 6-2, but that was followed by a strong run from both Hardie and McGinnis to put the Jackets in front 7-6.

Tanner did end the quarter on a 4-0 to take a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Vincent looked much better offensively in the second quarter, playing possibly its best quarter of the game on that end of the floor.

The Jackets got four made free throws in four attempts from McGinnis as well as 3-pointers from both Ryshod Keith and Malik Hamilton, which eventually gave them a 17-15 lead.

Turnovers and offensive rebounds allowed Tanner to take the lead back at 19-17, but a free throw and a layup from Kaleb Wilson allowed Vincent to come back and take a 20-19 lead at the half.

At the break, Vincent was by no means playing great basketball after getting out-rebounded 21-12 and shooting 5-25 from the field and 2-9 from beyond the arc, but the Yellow Jacket still led, which had to have them feeling good heading into the second half knowing that they could come out and play much better in the third quarter to put pressure on the Rattlers.

Instead, the start to the third quarter was a sloppy display by both teams.

It started with a 5-0 run from Tanner to take a 24-20 lead, but both teams were losing control of the ball multiple times a possession, and neither was finding any rhythm offensively just throwing the ball all over the place with no good ball movement or good shots.

Where Vincent did shine was at the free throw line and that’s what kept the Jackets in the game. Four consecutive free throws from McGinnis and Hamilton brought Vincent to within two points at 26-24 before a long scoreless drought ensued by both teams due to several turnovers in a row.

Tanner eventually went up 30-24, but Keith followed with a layup to make it a four-point game again. That’s when McGinnis ended up picking up fouls on two consecutive possessions to pick up his third and fourth of the game.

The demeanor changed at that point.

Tanner knew it not only had Vincent’s two bigs in foul trouble, but the momentum with the lead. The Rattlers used that to fuel a strong end to the quarter featuring a 6-1 run, which all of a sudden extended their lead to nine points heading to the fourth.

After falling behind 11 early in the fourth, McGinnis turned up his play and picked up two consecutive layups, while also forcing two steals, which led to the Jackets getting back to within seven points at 38-31 with 4:05 left.

Tanner, however, answered that 4-0 run with a 5-0 run of its own to extend the lead to 12 points, which became too much of a hurdle for the Jackets leading to the final score of 46-33.

Vincent did decent things defensively forcing 17 turnovers thanks in large part to six steals, but the Jackets were out-rebounded 36-21 in the game with McGinnis and Hardie on the bench for much of the game. They also shot just 2-11 from beyond the arc and 8-41 from the field, never finding a consistent shot.

A positive note was the 15-18 Vincent shot from the free throw line. While the team is disappointed in how the season ended, that’s something to build off of.

McGinnis had 11 points and six rebounds to lead Vincent and earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. Keith also made the All-Tournament team and added eight points and four rebounds. In his final game for the Yellow Jackets, Hardie posted four points and three rebounds despite spending the entire game in foul trouble.

Hardie has been a bought in player for several years, and put a lot on his own shoulders during his senior year. He became a player his teammates respected, and one the rest of the team can aspire to be, as they look to make it back next year to redeem this loss.

This year’s Vincent team was one that faced adversity internally throughout the year, and now after seeing everything unfold, the Jackets have a season of lessons under their belt to come back and do everything in their power as a team to make next year even more special.

“We learned a lot of stuff this year, not just from tonight,” Hadder said. “Going into next year, we bring a lot of guys back, and that’s a good thing on the surface, but it’s only a good thing if they’re bought in the way they’re supposed to be bought in. Hopefully this group coming back learned some of the things they needed to learn through the course of the season.”