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Yeshiva University Basketball captures the Skyline championship

Maccabees play Worcester Polytechnic Institute in NCAA Division III tournament

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The No. 13 nationally ranked NCAA Division III Yeshiva University Maccabees (27-1) captured their second Skyline Conference championship in three years on Sunday by defeating the SUNY Purchase Panthers 86-74.

It was the 27th consecutive victory (the most in D-III this season) for the Maccabees after a season-opening loss to Occidental College in California. The Y.U. basketball team earned the automatic bid to the D-III NCAA tournament and plays Worcester Polytechnic Institute (20-7) at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore on March 6 at 1 p.m. 

Lawrence resident and star senior forward Gabriel Leifer was named the Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament for the top-seeded team. Leifer recorded his third triple-double of the season, with 16 points, a career-high 24 rebounds and 12 assists in the March 1 game.

“Lucky to get to coach and learn from this amazing group of selfless individuals each and every day,” Yeshiva University head coach and Woodmere resident Elliot Steinmetz posted on Twitter. “Undefeated in the Skyline this season. That’ll last forever,” he stated in a Y.U. news release. Steinmetz was selected Skyline Conference Coach of the Year, the second time in his six years at the Manhattan school he was awarded the honor.

After Purchase (18-10) grabbed a 13-3 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in the first half, Yeshiva responded with a rally ignited by a Leifer layup that saw the team tally 18 unanswered points and take a 21-13 advantage as the Panthers went cold. The Maccabees held Purchase scoreless for 5:45 during that stretch.

Sophomore guard Ryan Turell (29 points) hit on a pair of three-pointers. Freshman guard Ofek Reef, who plays much bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame, forced a steal and converted the fast break layup. Turell was named Skyline Player of The Year and Reef was named conference Rookie of the Year. Turell was the Skyline Rookie of the Year last season.

From the beginning of the season through now, the team has relied on a stifling defense that propels an offense averaging nearly 87 points a game. That “D” consistently created offensive opportunities by harassing the Panthers and creating turnovers, including six first-half steals.

Junior guard Eitan Halpert (a career-high 19 points) drilled a three-point field goal that expanded Yeshiva’s lead to 34-23, with 5:53 left in the half. Older brother Simcha Halpert (8 points) hit a try with 11 seconds to go in the first half that boosted Y.U.’s advantage to 55-39 at halftime.

The teams traded buckets in the early minutes of the second half. Eitan Halpert remained hot hitting a jumper that made 65-47. Awhile later, Leifer blocked a shot, collected the rebound and completed the end-to-end action with a layup that put the Maccabees up 72-53, their largest lead.

Purchase showed why they were the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and mounted a comeback. Scoring six straight points, the Panthers sliced the lead to 72-59 with 8:06 remaining in regulation. Less than two minutes later freshman guard Jorden Means made two free throws to get Purchase within 12, at 73-61.

The surge slowed, but with 2:01 left, Means nailed a jumper and was fouled. The ensuing free throw had the Panthers within 9 at 81-72. Then Y.U. shut the door. Eitan Halpert hit on his own old-fashioned three-point play for a 12-point lead. Then Leifer made a pair of free throws to seal the win.