By: Chana Weinberg  | 

Macs Defeat Penn State Harrisburg in Second Round, Advance to DIII Sweet 16

With a 102-83 defeat of Penn State Harrisburg on Saturday night, Yeshiva men’s basketball punched its first-ever ticket to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16. Yeshiva has now won 29 games in a row, the longest active streak in the country. The No. 13 Maccabees and their top-ranked offense is set to face defensive powerhouse No. 3 Randolph-Macon College in Virginia on Friday, March 13 at 2 p.m. 

This first pod of the tournament was played before an empty gym at Johns Hopkins University as a precaution over the spread of the novel coronavirus. Though no one was in the stands, the game was reportedly streamed on 31,000 devices in front of an estimated 200,000 fans.

“It means everything,” said team co-captain Gabriel Leifer (SSSB ‘21) about the historic win. “We knew that after we lost in the conference finals last year … that this year was going to be a big year for us … we knew we had to make this year something special.” 

In the second round game, Yeshiva continued its offensive attack shooting an otherworldly 65% from the field with five players scoring in double figures, but Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz (SSSB ‘02) was confident that the team’s offensive performance was a result of their trusted motion offense. 

“Offensively, it was just more of the same of what we’ve done all year,” Steinmetz said after the victory. “These guys shared the ball, found the guy who was open and we were able to shoot a high percentage and get a ‘W.’”

Guard Ryan Turell (SSSB ‘22) followed up his career performance of 41 points on Friday with 30 points in the second round game. He shot 11 of 15 overall and was a perfect 3 of 3 from behind the arc. Turell’s lanky 6’ 7” frame allows him to post-up under the basket. Coupled with his sharpshooting ability, this makes him nearly impossible to guard. 

The Macs’ offense is built to work with the players who are playing well during each specific contest. They are among the top in the country in assists and understand that on any given night, another player can stand out. Players such as forward Caleb Milobsky (SSSB ‘21) and guard Eitan Halpert (SSSB ‘21) have had such games during the Macs’ historic season. The ability to capitalize on breakout performances supplements the Macs’ consistent brilliance on offense and makes them a formidable foe for any DIII tournament team. 

Simcha Halpert (SSSB ‘20) and Leifer, two of the Macs’ constants, once again showed up on Saturday night. Halpert scored 21 points on 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc. Leifer scored 10 points, dished out 10 assists, pulled 20 rebounds and added three blocks, getting his fourth triple-double of the year.

“We try to focus on whoever is feeling it,” Turell said postgame. “We are trying to run an offense. It doesn't matter who gets the ball that night, who is scoring. Whoever is scoring, we hit him.” 

“It's all about the next guy coming up and just staying together and trying to accomplish what we set out to do,” added Leifer about the team’s chemistry.

Another large part of their win was the extreme point differential in the paint. Yeshiva’s 54 points in the paint nearly doubled Penn State’s 26 paint points. Paint points came mostly on Yeshiva’s ability to take advantage of the defense on backdoor cuts to the basket. Team spark plug Ofek Reef (SSSB ‘23) used his athleticism to get to the basket, scoring 16 of the Macs 54 paint points on 7 of 8 shooting. 

Though the lopsided score at the final buzzer hid it, the first half of this contest was incredibly close, with 15 lead changes. In the opening 20 minutes, neither team led by more than 7 points, when Yeshiva scored on a fastbreak layup by Eitan Halpert. Penn State’s largest lead of the game was 4.

A knock on Yeshiva this tournament is their free-throw shooting percentage, which has taken a significant dive since the Macs started the tournament. After shooting an overall 73% from the charity stripe this season, the Macs are shooting free-throws at a 68% rate in the first two games of the tournament.

“It certainly looked harder today with how we shot it,” said Turell about the challenge of taking free throws in a quiet, spectator-less gym. “We always yell and try to psych each other out at the free-throw line [during practice]. I guess we’ve got to be quiet now."

The spread of the COVID-19 virus has also impacted the team off the court as they were turned away from their Maryland hotel on Thursday because the hotel was reluctant to host the team after a YU student tested positive for the virus earlier last week. Additionally, tip-off for the first round game was pushed off an hour and twenty minutes after a Yeshiva professor tested positive. The team waited in their new hotel until they were cleared to play. 

Coach Steinmetz told d3hoops.com that the team will not return to campus “largely for optics,” as they try to play the next round without complications. All Yeshiva classes have been canceled until Monday. 

“It's all about the brotherhood that we’ve formed,” said Turell of his team’s ability to overcome adversity. “It doesn’t matter what gets thrown at us, we’re together, we’re a unit.”

Photo Caption: Ryan Turell pulls up for a mid-range jumper in front of empty bleachers at Johns Hopkins during the Macs’ 102-83 victory.
Photo Credit: Joe Bednarsh