By: Sammy Intrator  | 

YU to Take On Illinois-Wesleyan in Rematch of DIII Powerhouses

Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball team, the YU Maccabees, will play its second game of the basketball season against the Illinois-Wesleyan Titans in Bloomington, Illinois Saturday night.

The game, part of the Sikma Hall of Fame Invitational, will be played at Illinois-Wesleyan University's Shirk Center at 9 p.m. The Titans are ranked #21 in d3hoops preseason rankings. The Maccabees did not make the top 25.

The team will fly to Chicago Thursday, YU Athletic Director Greg Fox told The Commentator. They’ll spend time Thursday practicing at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy gym and sharing their experiences with the Ida Crown student body.

The Maccabees’ second game of the season will be a rematch of last year’s highly anticipated matchup, which YU entered with the second-longest win streak in division three basketball history  — 50 straight wins. 

At the time, YU was ranked #1 and Illinois-Wesleyan was ranked #4. The Maccabees lost the game 73-59, in the first-ever matchup between the teams, ending its 50-game win streak.

The Sikma Hall of Fame Invitational was created by Illinois-Wesleyan University in 2021 and consists of a yearly four-game tournament between different NCAA Division Three teams.

This year’s clash is primed to look different with YU returning just two of eight players from the game — Adi Markovich (SSSB ‘24) and Matan Zucker (YC ‘23) — who, in last year’s game, combined for 28 minutes and zero points off the bench. All-Americans Ryan Turell (SSSB ‘22) — who scored 22 points in last year’s game — and Gabriel Leifer (SSSB ‘21), as well as starting point guard Eitan Halpert (SSSB ‘22), are no longer on the team.

There’ll be more familiar faces seen on the Titan’s bench than the Mac’s in this game as the Titans will be bringing back four players from last year’s meeting. Senior Cody Mitchell — who scored 10 points in last year’s game —  will return along with fellow senior Lucas Heflen — 21 minutes off the bench — and juniors Ryan Sroka — sixth man with eight points — and the 6’8” Grant Hardy. However, some of the Titans’ best players in last year’s matchup, such as Matthew Leritz, who scored 14 points and 25 rebounds; Peter Lambesis, who scored 13 points and 5 assists and Luke Yoder, who scored 15 points and four assists, are no longer on the team.

Fox told The Commentator that this year's game was part of an agreement made with the Titans last year.

“When I originally scheduled last year’s game with coach Rose of Illinois-Wesleyan,” Fox told The Commentator, “he asked if we could turn it into a home-and-home and come back to them in 2022-23. Coach Steinmetz was all for it, and soon after he began fundraising to cover our travel expenses.” 

When asked by The Commentator, Fox was not optimistic that this game will become an annual rivalry.

“No, I don’t believe that would be feasible,” said Fox. “Ideally we would like to travel to a different location each year in which our fans and alumni in Jewish communities across the country have the opportunity to watch us compete in person. But this requires finding the right fit as far as timing, level of competition, and accommodating our start time needs following Shabbos.”

The game was scheduled early in the season due to the difference in academic schedules between the universities. Yeshiva worked with Illinois-Wesleyan to make sure the game was scheduled before the latter heads into finals in mid-December.

Fox was excited about the rematch. 

“I personally like us more as the hunter instead of the hunted,” he told The Commentator. “With 11 new members on the team, I don’t see revenge serving as a big motivator. We have an almost entirely new cast of guys this season and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly we can adjust to playing a challenging schedule against high-quality competition.”

“Like always, I’ll be looking for us to compete hard for 40 minutes, but to do so as a team, playing for each other and playing with sportsmanship and class. If we do those things, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

The game will be streamed by Illinois-Wesleyan and the YU athletic department will post a link to the game on its social media accounts.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Nov. 10 to reflect that the Macs will spend time practicing and sharing their experiences at Ida Crown Jewish Acadamy on Thursday. A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that it would be on Friday.

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Photo Caption: Ryan Turell dribbles alongside Peter Lambesis in last year's game. Neither Turell nor Lambesis will be playing this year.

Photo Credit: MacsLive