Setting records wasn’t on Yeshiva University’s mind when they set out at the start of the year, but those things happen when you put together the best season in program history.
The top-seeded Maccabees men’s basketball team defeated No. 2 Purchase, 86-74, in the Skyline Conference final at the Max Stern Athletic Center on Sunday.
The victory gave Yeshiva, which has its main campus in Washington Heights, its 27th straight win, having not lost since its opener, for the most victories among Division III teams this season. Their 27-game winning streak and their total wins are school records for a team currently ranked No. 13 in the country by D3Hoops.com.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh let’s get the 17th win or let’s get the 24th win,’ ” said Skyline Tournament Most Outstanding Player Gabriel Leifer — who had 16 points, 24 rebounds and 12 assists in the final. “It was more like let’s take this one night at a time and eventually over time we’ll build a winning streak. But I guess we started to realize it once we broke the school record [of 17].”
The title is the Yeshiva’s second in three years, after also reaching the Skyline final in 2019. Ryan Turrell led all scorers with 29 points and Eitan Halpert added 19. The Maccabees (27-1) will find out who they play in the NCAA Tournament on Monday afternoon.
“Really proud of this group,” coach Elliot Steinmetz said. “Undefeated in the Skyline this season. That’ll last forever.”
After opening the season with a 72-60 loss in L.A. to Occidental College, the closest Yeshiva came to losing again was a 74-72 win on the road over Sarah Lawrence. Leifer hit a wide-open 3-pointer off a pass from Turell with six seconds remaining in the game to claim their 15th straight victory. Leifer said he hesitated a bit before shooting, but it felt good out of his hand.
“I knew he was going to pass it to me in the corner,” Leifer said. “I knew I just had to make the shot.”
The team’s success is part of the vision Steinmetz had when he took over the program in 2014. He wanted to recruit the best Jewish players nationwide. Leifer is one of five players from New York and New Jersey — while others come from California, Texas and Colorado, sometimes passing up offers Ivy League and Division I schools. Yeshiva’s schedule and dual curriculum can be a better fit to observant players’ religious needs
“It’s just a testament to the program that we are getting people who have other offers that necessarily didn’t need the religious observance, but it’s contagious,” Leifer said. “We have all these families in the community come to games and it’s an experience of a lifetime.”
Next Yeshiva will try to erase the memory of a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament in 2018. It was Leifer’s first season with the team and all of the players’ first NCAA Tournament. With much of the core back from that team, the experience should be invaluable this time around as the team wants to make a run.
“It’s gonna take our leadership to get the guys together and really convince them that we can do this.” Leifer said. “I know right now the team’s feeling great and we really think we can makes some noise just based on how we are playing this season.”