Vincent seniors change program standards despite Elite Eight loss

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HANCEVILLE – After losing in the Elite Eight a year ago, the Vincent Yellow Jackets came together with two goals heading into the 2019-20 basketball season. A year later, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Yellow Jackets couldn’t follow through one of those goals, but they did follow through on the more important of the two.

Despite losing to Red Bay 44-31 in the Elite Eight, several Vincent seniors put shirts over their faces to cover up tears from the overcoming emotions of the loss. But, while that moment undoubtedly stung, the Jackets did accomplish another goal they set out to change—one that will impact the future.

“We sat right here at this same table last year on Regional final night and I made the comment that there were some things from a culture standpoint we had let slip a little bit,” head coach John Hadder said after the loss to Red Bay. “I challenged our guys at the beginning of the year. I told them it’s not about winning; it’s about fixing the culture issues we have.

“They were great all year long. Some of the things we had let dip in terms of the standards we have, they fixed it. I was proud to be out there with them every night this year.”

That’s something seniors like Ryshod Keith, Jackson McGinnis and Malik Hamilton will be remembered for. All three were starters the last two years, but each set out to accomplish that goal.

And while pouring that much effort into changing the program made it all the more difficult to come up short of redemption and getting to the Final Four, it changed the future of the Vincent program and is something that is worthy of pulling the shirt from over their faces to show a proud smile of accomplishment.

“We finished 26-3,” Hadder said with a smile. “You have to be proud of what you accomplished, even though you’re disappointed on this night. I’m super proud of them. I’m more pleased with the young men they have grown into this year.”

That team chemistry the Jackets were able to form this year was key in the success and that culture change, and is something Keith and McGinnis were proud to be a part of together.

“I’m going to miss it a lot,” Keith said. “We knew who was next to us every night, and we move on, it’s going to be tough to try to recreate what we had here.”

“I’m going to miss it all,” McGinnis said. “You get so used to something, and then it’s just gone.”

From a game standpoint, the Yellow Jackets struggled to get into their usual rhythm of fast breaks and speeding the game up, which caused offensive issues all night.

Vincent struggled to find an offensive rhythm early in both the first and second quarter, which put the Jackets behind the eight ball.

In the opening period, Red Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead as both offenses struggled, but with 4:20 to play in the frame, McGinnis got the scoring started for the Yellow Jackets with an emphatic dunk on a Red Bay player.

That was followed by a Tae McGregor layup to tie the game, before Keith got his game started with seven consecutive points. He posted an and-1 put back and made four more free throws to help Vincent take an 11-9 lead at the end of one.

But even with that momentum swing, Vincent couldn’t find early offensive success in the second quarter.

Red Bay came out and went on a 6-0 run to take a 15-11 advantage, but the Tigers couldn’t pull away.

Vincent finally scored with 2:55 left in the period, again behind a layup from McGinnis. Red Bay eventually extended its lead to six points at 19-13, but two free throws from McGinnis and a steal and layup from Keith helped limit the damage and cut the deficit to two points for Vincent at 19-17 going into the half.

Needing adjustments offensively at the break, Vincent came out hoping to find an offensive rhythm, but Red Bay’s defense continued to cause trouble for the Jackets.

So much so that Keith hit one layup early in the quarter, which became the only points in the period.

“The one thing I was worried about was them controlling the tempo offensively,” Hadder said. “And that’s essentially what they did. Defensively you start to lose patience, then you step out to guard them and they backdoor you.”

Vincent, a team that relies on fast break play, wasn’t getting the opportunity to push the ball due to fundamental offense from Red Bay that ended in baskets and turned the game into a half court contest. That led to the Yellow Jackets scoring just four fast break points in the game.

The Jackets got opportunities, but missed several baskets in the half court set at the rim that became costly, while Red Bay was able to play efficiently to pull in front 30-19 at the end of the third.

“We were 9-for-37 from the field,” Hadder said. “We missed a lot of stuff at the rim. A couple at times where we really needed it. It would have picked us up at the defensive end, but instead it turned into another let down. You would get a stop and come down and miss a shot, then it was right back to trying to get another stop. I think their game plan made us rush offensively and made us impatient defensively.

Vincent made one final crack at a comeback in the final quarter when Hamilton hit a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to eight points, but after missing a three on the Jackets’ next possession that would have cut it to five points, Red Bay scored four in a row to take a 12-point lead with just more than a minute left, which was the final blow.

With the outcome, you could see the disappointment from Vincent’s players, but you could also see the care for the program, something that will impact the Jackets far into the future.