Men’s Basketball Receives National Recognition as Win Streak Hits 15
For the first time in program history, the men’s basketball team received national recognition as the 24th best team in Division III basketball. The D3hoops.com Top 25 is voted on by a panel of 25 coaches, sports information directors and journalists from across the country and is updated weekly.
“The ranking, besides being reflective of all the hard work over the past years, is a statement that this team was always number one to the Jewish community,” said YU Athletics Director Joe Bednarsh. “[YU] is a small school with stringent academic requirements and many religious restrictions, yet they excel on the national stage.”
Also garnering regional and national attention, senior forward Gabriel Leifer (SSSB ‘21) was named the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Division II-III player of the week, the first athlete in program history to get this recognition. For the second time this season, Leifer was named to the D3hoops.com Team of the Week. Leifer also surpassed the 1,000 career points mark; he now ranks 28th in the history of the program. Simcha Halpert (SSSB ‘20) continues to move up the list in career points as he is now in third place on the all-time top scorer list with 1,599 points.
Speaking on the D3Hoops.com podcast “Hoopsville” on Jan. 26, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz addressed the potential outside pressure on his student-athletes because of their popularity with the worldwide religious Jewish community.
“When we started this thing pressure is kind of what we want,” he said. “Everyone was saying that after a couple of winning years ‘Hey now everyone will expect you to win,’ but that’s the point. That’s what we are here to do. We are trying to compete, we are trying to win games. We are trying to get the guys in shape to beat some darn good teams.”
This pressure has been building for a number of years now as the Macs have reached the Skyline Conference Championship in both ‘18 and ‘19 and According to MacsLive beat reporter Akiva Poppers, the ‘19-’20 team has a talent and cohesion that raises them to the next level.
“The chemistry and selflessness of this team make it different than those from years passed,” commented Poppers. “It’s one thing to have five extremely talented players on the court at one time; it’s another to have five who are both incredibly gifted and are willing to put the team’s success over their own”
This attitude is reflected in the numbers as well. Leifer sets the selfless tone, averaging 6.5 assists per game, ranking him tenth in the DIII. The team’s field goal percentage (52%) is second in the league, possibly indicating that they are more efficient with their shots, willing to make another pass to find the greatest shot on the court.
Competing for the first time after their national recognition, the Macs defeated Sarah Lawrence College in a gripping contest by a score of 74-72 as Leifer, who scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, drained a three-point shot in the final seconds. The defense followed with a tremendous game-ending stop to hold the Mac’s lead. Sophomore guard Ryan Turell (SSSB ‘22) was also a huge contributor, scoring 35 points, including two clutch free-throws as the time ran out.
This team is not unfamiliar with making history as the Macs shattered the program’s record for the best start to a season since joining the NCAA in 1965. They are 15-1 overall and 8-0 in conference play since their season opener loss against Occidental College. The program record for consecutive wins is 17, a record set last year by the 2018-2019 Macs.
The Macs will look to continue their streak against Purchase in a Skyline Conference matchup this Thursday night at MSAC.
Photo Caption: The Macs have won 15 straight
Photo Credit: YU Athletics