After Comeback Victory, Men’s Basketball to Continue Historic Season in Skyline Championship Game
With a hard-fought win over the Farmingdale State Rams, the Yeshiva University Maccabees are headed to the Skyline Conference Championships for the third consecutive year. The top-seeded Macs will host the second-seed SUNY Purchase Panthers on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Max Stern Athletic Center. The two teams are playing for more than just the title as the winner will get an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Macs came into the game already having faced and defeated the Rams twice during the regular season, once by a 7-point margin and once by 27 points. Both teams played aggressive defense in the first five minutes, limiting the total points scored to 8, 6 of which were scored by the Macs. This was the second-fewest opening points scored in a conference match-up this season.
After the opening minutes, both teams found offensive rhythm, bringing the score to 17-14 at the ten minute mark. But that was the closest the Rams got in the first half as Yeshiva pulled away, ending the first half with a 14-point lead, at 43-29. Their offensive prowess was encapsulated by a deafening dunk by Ryan Turell (SSSB ‘22) and assisted by Gabe Leifer (SSSB ‘21) at the 5:30 mark, which got the crowd of 950 spectators out of their seats.
The crowd was “as loud as I’ve ever seen it,” Athletics Director Joe Bednarsh, who has been working at YU for 27 years, said about that moment.
The exuberant spectators were quieted by a strong second-half start for the Rams. Farmingdale freshman Dominique Senat scored 8 of the Rams’ 13 points in the first five minutes, as Farmingdale plowed its way back into the game. The Farmingdale comeback was actualized when Rams senior guard Anthony Miller, Jr. hit a crowd-silencing three pointer to put Farmingdale ahead 52-49 with eleven and a half minutes to play.
The Macs and Rams exchanged points until the end of the game, with the Macs eventually gutting out a 74-69 win. Turell led the team in scoring with 22 points, and Eitan Halpert (SSSB ‘21) followed close behind with 17 points of his own, 12 of which came off three pointers. Leifer pulled down nine rebounds and dished out five assists to go along with nine points. The Rams’ defense held three-point specialist Simcha Halpert (SSSB ‘20) to a season-low 3 points, making his younger brother’s breakout performance critical in this win.
The team has now won 26 in a row, the longest active streak in NCAA Division III. This streak is also the longest in YU history, surpassing the 17 game win streak of the 2018-’19 season. Additionally, the Macs received national recognition as they became the first YU team in history to be named to the Division Three top 25 ranking put out by d3hoops.com, finishing the season at no. 15. The Macs are also ranked second in the NCAA Division III Atlantic Region, the highest ranking in program history.
The Macs are drawing attention from the broader Jewish community as well. “Coming to these games is an opportunity for my boys to see the YU team and see YU and the Jewish guys act with great middot but with athletic ability,” said spectator Yakir Wachstock, a Holliswood, New York resident who was at the game accompanied by his three sons.
“They are a pleasure to watch. It’s good basketball,” said Lenny Solomon, the creator of the Jewish parody band Shlock Rock and an avid Macs fan, from his home in Beit Shemesh. “They have finally mastered the motion offense and they get stops on defense. And they are playing for the Jewish people.”
Bednarsh sounded off on how this Macs team is unique from last year, when the Macs lost in the Skyline Championship against Farmingdale. “I think [the players] have all brought in to the message that [Head Coach] Elliot has brought on. They care about the letter more than the number [on their jersey],” said Bednarsh. “They want that W. And you see, every game someone else steps up. And it's a beautiful thing.”
“It's a bunch of selfless basketball between everybody here,” said co-captain Dani Katz (SSSB ‘20). “We don’t care about numbers in terms of our own selfish or personal ideas. We just care about getting a win as a team. Just play for everybody. Play like it's your last game. If you don’t give your full effort then why am I playing?”
Photo Caption: The Mac’s pre-game huddle
Photo Credit: YUMacs.com