The YU Maccabees’ historic season came to an end last Friday with a loss to York College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Macs clinched a tournament berth with a Skyline Conference championship win over Purchase College last month. This marked Yeshiva’s first time in the tournament, and the team’s success achieved notoriety around the country.
Though the season began with a shaky start due to injuries, Yeshiva won nine of their last ten games to reach the four seed and a chance to play in the Skyline Conference tournament.
Simcha Halpert, a sophomore guard from California, was there for the Macs all season long, leading the team in both minutes and points scored. He was also dominant on defense, accumulating a team-high 45 steals. The Israeli sophomore Bar Alluf was also a consistent scorer and shot almost .500 from the field. Sophomore Gabe Leifer missed the first half of the season due to an injury but returned to the lineup just in time to help propel the Macs on their late run. His size helped Yeshiva on the boards, and Leifer averaged a double-double in points and rebounds over the season. The Hod brothers, Tyler and Justin from Teaneck, are guards who add speed and skill on both ends of the court. Junior Tal Gweta and sophomore Daniel Katz also contribute size and strength to a foreboding roster.
In the conference tournament, the #4 seed Maccabees opened with a home game against Mount Saint Mary. After a rough start to the game, Yeshiva found themselves with an 18 point deficit, but showed resilience, coming within four points of the Knights to finish off the half. Yeshiva came out firing after the break, and double-doubles by Alluf and Leifer helped secure the win. The Maccabees advanced to the semifinals, where they faced off against the #1 seed, Farmingdale State. This time it was the Maccabees’ turn to open up strong, dominating Farmingdale into the early second half. However, Farmingdale would rally back, fighting with desperation to avoid an upset, and cut the Maccabees’ lead to just three points with three minutes remaining. The two teams went back and forth, until a last minute three by Farmingdale tied the game up at 69 to end regulation. The Maccabees’ outlasted their opponents in overtime, advancing to the conference finals and a chance to play for a championship win and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Waiting for them was the #2 seed Purchase College, who the Maccabees split with during the regular season. Purchase had the advantage early on in the season, edging out Yeshiva by two points for the win, but the Maccabees got revenge in their last game before the tournament, using a strong second half to propel themselves to victory. The championship game would prove to be a third thrilling matchup between these teams. The Panthers sprung out to an early lead, but the Maccabees quickly fought back, and the score remained about even until Yeshiva began to pull away towards the end of the first half. The Maccabees remained on top for most of the second half, and managed to close out a strong championship game, thanks to the phenomenal play of Halpert, who led the team in scoring at 25 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the championships.
In addition to the team’s success, the Maccabees were well represented in Skyline’s All-Conference men’s basketball team. Alluf and Halpert were selected for All-Conference First Team, and Leifer was named Second Team All-Conference.
The Maccabees were finally champions, and, for the first time in the program’s history, secured a spot to compete in the NCAA tournament. The game was originally set for Saturday afternoon but had to be rescheduled to avoid Shabbat. In the end, the Maccabees played their game the day after Purim and just hours before sundown on Friday afternoon in Southern Pennsylvania against the York College Spartans.
Before the tournament game, questions were raised by the NCAA regarding the eligibility of Bar Alluf, who allegedly played professionally in Israel before coming to Yeshiva. The university decided to hold Alluf out of the tournament game, and released a statement, writing that, “We—Yeshiva University and its community of students, faculty and alumni—take pride in holding ourselves to the highest possible standards on and off of the court. As such, we have decided that Mr. Alluf will not play in the tournament in order to avoid any possible impact these new allegations may have on our team’s participation.” The 6”4 starting forward filled the stat sheet night in and night out during the season, using his size and athleticism to compete against bigger opponents, and the Maccabees would have to quickly adjust to his absence.
The Maccabees opened with an early lead, but that quickly changed with York scoring twenty unanswered points to go up 18. Yeshiva would bounce back, going on a run of their own led by Leifer and senior forward Eli Mamann, to cut York’s lead to six late in the first. Finishing strong, York ended the half with a 46-34 lead. The second half saw the teams going back and forth trading buckets before York hit back to back threes to go up by 17 with ten minutes remaining. An and-one layup by Katz started a run by Yeshiva, who cut the lead to ten and found themselves within striking distance with just under four minutes left in the game. York was able to fend off the late pressure from the Maccabees, and late threes from Spartans kept them ahead as time ran out. York won 81-67 and advanced to the next round of the tournament.
Leifer led the scoring for the team with 18 points, followed Katz with 15 points and Halpert with 12. Tyler Hod dominated on the boards, securing nine rebounds against much larger opponents, and he added eight points.
The tournament was a unique experience for the players, and an inspirational moment for the Yeshiva University and greater Jewish communities. Coach Elliot Steinmetz, who himself had played for the Maccabees during his time as a student, was very proud of the team and noted the impact their success has had on those around them. “The last couple of days have been crazy,” said Steinmetz, “It’s just been overwhelming. It’s taken over certainly the campus and the extended Jewish world.”
By Eli Rifkind