(Courtesy of www.yumacs.com) For the second time in three years, the Yeshiva University men’s basketball team captured the Skyline Conference championship, thanks to an 86-74 victory over Purchase College, at the Max Stern Athletic Center on Sunday afternoon. The Maccabees earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament for the second time in program history.
Senior forward Gabriel Leifer was named Most Outstanding Player of the Skyline Conference championships. In the championship game, he generated his third triple-double of the season, scoring 16 points, grabbing a career-high 24 rebounds and leading all players with 12 assists.
Nationally ranked No. 15 Yeshiva secured its 27th win of the season, the most in all of NCAA Division III and has won 27 consecutive games since the season opener.
“Really proud of this group,” Yeshiva University Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz said. “Undefeated in the Skyline this season. That’ll last forever. Now we celebrate and tomorrow we start focusing on our next game.”
YU got off to a slow start, as Purchase (18-10) surged to an early 13-3 advantage just over four minutes into the contest. Yeshiva regained its composure, as a layup by Leifer kick-started 18 unanswered points to propel the Macs to a commanding 21-13 hold, with 10:30 left to play in the half. Sophomore guard Ryan Turell nailed two shots from beyond the arc, during the rally and freshman guard Ofek Reef capped it off by forcing a steal and converting a layup off the fast break. The Macs held the Panthers scoreless for 5:45 during that stretch.
Later in the stanza, junior guard Eitan Halpert drained a 3-point field goal to inflate Yeshiva’s cushion to 11, at 34-23, with 5:53 to go in the half. The Blue and White finished the frame strong, as senior guard Simcha Halpert drilled a shot from downtown with 11 ticks left on the clock that gave YU its largest lead of the stanza, 55-39, and that would be the score at the intermission.
Yeshiva and Purchase exchanged baskets throughout the early stages of the second half. Eitan Halpert continued his strong shooting with a successful jump shot that increased Yeshiva’s lead to 65-47, with 12:48 remaining in regulation time. Later in the period, Leifer blocked a shot attempt and grabbed the defensive rebound. On the other end of the floor, he capitalized on a layup to give the Maccabees their largest lead of the afternoon, at 19 (72-53).
Purchase would not go down without a fight, tallying six consecutive points to cut Yeshiva’s hold to 72-59 with 8:06 to go. With 6:19 remaining, freshman guard Jorden Means knocked down a pair of free throws to pull the Panthers to within 12, at 73-61. Senior forward Daniel Katz halted the opposition’s momentum by tipping the ball into the basket to extend the Macs’ advantage to 75-61, with less than six minutes remaining.
Yeshiva seemingly had control of the game, but with 2:01 left to play, Means capitalized on a jumper while being fouled. He added the free throw to pull the Panthers to within single digits, at 81-72. That’s as close as Purchase would get, as Eitan Halpert countered with an “and one” jump shot of his own, and then converted the free throw to increase Yeshiva’s hold to 84-72 with 1:33 remaining. Leifer added two shots from the charity stripe with less than a minute to go, and Yeshiva went on to win the contest, 86-74, and capture its second league championship in program history.
For the Maccabees, Turell had a game-high 29 points with three assists. Eitan Halpert scored a career-best 19 points, shooting 7-for-9 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range, while forcing a pair of steals. Simcha Halpert added eight points, three boards, just as many assists and two steals. Katz tallied six points and eight boards.
The Maccabees will play WPI in the opening round of the NCAA Division III tournament this Friday, March 6, with a 1 p.m. tip off, at John Hopkins University.