Men’s Basketball Falls to Farmingdale in Skyline Conference Championship
On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 24, the YU men’s basketball team’s run to back-to-back championship wins ended with an 81-75 loss to the Farmingdale State College (FSC) Rams in Farmingdale. After a historic season in which the Macs won a record 17 games in a row, their league-leading offense never broke out, with the Rams holding YU to its lowest score since the season’s opening weeks.
The Macs faithful filled up three sections of the Nold Athletic Complex Center at FSC, including a large group of students who traveled on two full Athletic Department-sponsored buses from both undergraduate campuses, as well as other alumni and fans from the broader Jewish community.
With the score shifting back and forth in the opening minutes, the Macs took their biggest lead of the game, 8 points, at the 13:00-minute mark in the first half. But it never got further than that, with the scoreboard reading 34-32 Rams as the first 20 minutes came to a close.
One of the biggest stories of the first half was junior forward Gabe Leifer’s constant presence around the rim where he grabbed 7 rebounds and shot 7 for 10 from the field. Leifer finished the game as the Macs leading scorer, accumulating a double-double with 27 points and 15 rebounds while adding 8 assists.
“I thought it was very well played by both teams, great defensive effort on both sides,” said Assistant Athletics Director Greg Fox to The Commentator during half-time. “I think the Macs need to be a little more aggressive offensively,” added a hopeful Fox.
But the Ram’s defense kept the league-leading offense from getting on a run. Co-Captain Simcha Halpert, last year’s championship game MVP, was held to 14 points on 3-9 shooting from the three-point range and 5-13 overall.
“It was a well-fought effort,” said Malky Perlberger (SCW ’20), who attended the championship game wearing the “White Out” t-shirt distributed at the semifinal game. “[Yeshiva] played its best but Farmingdale’s defense was on point.”
YU Athletics Director Joe Bednarsh had a different take.
“I don’t think it was the defense,” said Bednarsh of his men’s basketball team’s play. “We got a lot of clean looks and many of the same types of shots we’ve knocked down all season. They just didn’t fall [on Sunday].”
“This team captured the attention of programs throughout the country and laid down the gauntlet as a team to be reckoned with,” added Bednarsh when asked about the team’s overall season. “Both individually and as a team, these young men represented YU and their people with dignity, class, sportsmanship and hard-nosed tough play.”
This loss was the last game for seniors Michael Hayon, Tal Gweta and Justin Hod, but the rest of the team stays intact as they bring back the three “Big Three of Halpert, Leifer and rookie Ryan Turell as well as a strong supporting cast. Bednarsh specifically mentioned Daniel Tzion, a freshman who started off the season strong only to go down with an injury midway through, as being an important part of the 2019-2020 Macs team.
“For the last two years we have captivated and energized the Jewish people and fulfilled our goal of being the Pride of the Jews — I expect to further that next season,” concluded Bednarsh.
Eli Mamann, a YU graduate and captain of the 2017-2018 championship team, had words of encouragement for his former teammates.
“I know they took big strides this year,” Mamann told The Commentator at the conclusion of the game. “These guys really matured. You can tell on the court they really played their hearts out this year. They’re always looking forward to the future; that’s all they can do. They work hard in practice, they gave it their best effort and sometimes it just goes down this way.”
“Congratulations to this team, you guys are awesome” added Mamann. “Keep fighting for all of us.”
Fitting for the type of season they had, the awards did not stop after captains Katz, Gweta and Halpert accepted the runner-up trophy with tears in their eyes. Leifer was named Skyline Conference Player of the Year while making the all-conference first team. Leifer led the league in assists (5.4/gm.), rebounds (12.0/gm.) and blocked-shots (2.3/gm.). Turell was named Skyline Rookie of the Year and was also named to the all-conference first team after leading the lead in points per game (20.1) in an outstanding rookie performance. Simcha Halpert got his second all-conference first team spot and finished the year at no. 8 on YU’s all-time scoring list, with 1,345 career points.
Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz reflected on these awards in a statement to yumacs.com:
“While the season didn’t end the way we wanted, these awards are a great recognition of the hard work these players put in day in and day out,” Steinmetz said. “These are special young men who have been leaders and trailblazers for our program and it’s nice to see them get these deserved awards from the conference coaches.”
Photo Caption: Gabe Leifer led the Maccabees in scoring with 27 points.
Photo Credit: YU Athletics