Not many anticipated that Thursday night’s Skyline Conference Semifinal game between YU and Farmingdale State would turn into an instant classic, but when the Rams started the second half on a 29-9 run and took their first lead of the game, it became obvious that this matchup would go down to the wire. The Rams would go up 58-52 just minutes later, but three-pointers by Eitan Halpert and Gabriel Leifer tied the game with five minutes remaining. With under two to play, Ryan Kennedy drilled a trey, but clutch play by Ryan Turell and Leifer down the stretch, perfect free throw shooting, and an incredible Max Stern Athletic Center crowd pushed Yeshiva to their 26th consecutive victory.
“You’ve got to give credit to Farmingdale,” Leifer told MacsLive after the incredible game concluded. “They came out with an excellent game plan, they played very well, they held us down, they pounded us in the paint. It was nerve-wracking being down that much, but we knew that with the players we have and the depth we have, that if we stuck together as a team, we could overcome anything.”
The game started with strong defense and little scoring. Turell’s pivoting floater in the paint and Leifer’s inside drive for a layup were the only points in the first four minutes of regulation. Gabe then replicated the exact same feat as he accomplished against Merchant Marine on Tuesday, as he put back a YU miss and nailed a three. This gave him seven of the Macs’ first nine points, and put Yeshiva up 9-2. Following a Rams’ timeout, Dani Katz found Turell under the hoop for two; he followed that up with a beautiful pass to a cutting Reef. A Turell steal led to a fastbreak score, and with the Macs leading 17-9, Farmingdale State called their second timeout.
Sharpshooter Ryan Kennedy, owner of one of the best three-point shooting percentages in DIII, drilled a trey, as the Rams kept the game close. However, the Macs would respond with an 11-3 run, closed out by a monster slam by Turell. With five and a half minutes remaining in the half, Yeshiva held a 28-17 advantage.
Caleb Milobsky came off the bench, and immediately grabbed an offensive rebound, reset the offense, and drilled a three. Eitan Halpert hit one of his own, as Farmingdale State struggled to get within single digits. To end the half, Dani Katz hit two treys with the shot clock winding down, giving Yeshiva a 43-29 locker-room lead.
The beginning of period number two was the Dominique Senat show. Farmingdale State hit seven of their first nine shots from the floor, as the 6’8” forward bullied his way to 10 points on 5-5 shooting in the first three minutes. At the same time, the Macs went cold from the field. Senat would score another bucket with 13 minutes remaining, and with the Macs leading by just two, the YU crowd grew extremely anxious.
The Macs could not catch a break on the offensive end, and did not connect on another shot in the next four minutes of gameplay. In the meantime, De’Shawn Todman tied the game, and Anthony Miller Jr. nailed a corner three, giving the Rams their first lead, 52-49.
An Eitan Halpert trey broke the Macs’ scoring drought and tied the game at 52. However, Farmingdale State caught fire from behind the arc, as Corey Powell and Ryan Kennedy knocked down back-to-back triples, giving the Rams a six-point lead. Eitan was not to be outdone, and his three-pointer brought most in the crowd to their feet. With five minutes on the clock, the Rams were up, 60-57.
The tide started to turn when Leifer hit a three-pointer, tying the game and sending the crowd into pandemonium. With the fans standing and erupting with defense chants, Simcha Halpert stole the ball, resulting in a driving layup for his brother and a Yeshiva lead. Coach Brendan Twomey, sensing a momentum shift, called timeout.
Out of the timeout, a cutting Turell put in two, and the blue and white stands began to be trampled by fans jumping in excitement. Kennedy, seeing that he would need to be the Rams’ source of offense down the stretch, went inside for two, and on the ensuing possession, Powell was fouled. He sunk both of his attempts from the charity stripe, tying the game once more.
Simcha Halpert, who was quiet all night, missed his only shot attempt from the floor, but Leifer pulled down the rebound and put the ball through the hoop. That’s when Kennedy hit what appeared to be the biggest shot of his life, a crowd-silencing three-pointer to give Farmingdale State the lead with 1:45 to go.
Eitan Halpert tried to take it to the hole, but Senat swatted his attempt away. Turell picked up the loose ball, and hit a jumper, as the one-point advantage swapped hands. Kennedy once again tried to ignite the Rams’ fans, but he leaned in to Tyler Hod, who was playing straight up, resulting in an offensive foul.
With the Macs in a 2-for-1 situation, Leifer was fouled, and headed to the line for two. He sunk both shots, and the YU lead was three with 45 seconds on the clock. A Kennedy layup rolled off the rim, landing in the hands of Powell, but Simcha Halpert swatted the ball away. The Macs were in the double bonus, so when Sim was grabbed, he went to the stripe for a couple. Halpert got both to go, and with YU up five, the crowd erupted.
On the Rams ensuing possession, the Macs attacked the ball handler and hedged screens; when Kennedy was fouled on a two-point attempt, there were just 11 seconds remaining. He drained both, and brought the Macs’ advantage down to three. However, Turell iced the game from the line, and the Macs were victorious, 74-69.
Ryan led the scoring for the Macs with 22 points, all coming from inside the three-point arc. Gabe Leifer had 17 points and 9 boards, 4 of which were offensive. Eitan Halpert, on a night where his brother did not hit a shot from the field, scored a career-high 17 points, and even when he hit a cold stretch in the second half, he provided a spark of confidence. For the Rams, Dominique Senat had 19, a career-high for him; Ryan Kennedy and Anthony Miller Jr. each scored 15. The Rams outshot the Macs from a percentage standpoint, but the difference-maker was their 17 turnovers, compared to Yeshiva’s 9. Both teams grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
The Electric Max Stern Athletic Center Crowd
There is no doubt about it, the fans had a hand in tonight’s victory. Throughout the game, loud “defense” chants pushed the Macs; in the last five minutes, nearly all in the crowd were on their feet and yelling. When Yeshiva took back the lead late, the gym exploded; many have said that they could feel that the Macs were going to win.
The team could feel it too. As Leifer told MacsLive, “I have to give credit to the fans tonight. This was a real playoff atmosphere. This is what we’ve been working for this entire season, and they made it special.”
Coming into tonight’s game, the loudest decibel level the MSAC had hit all year was 107, after an Ofek Reef dunk. On Thursday, it was 109 on three different occasions, and consistently stayed in the 100s late.
Shutting Down Senat
The Macs had no answers for Dominique Senat early on in the second half. That’s when YU decided to double the Rams’ big man, and put “guard” Ryan Turell on him. From then on, he struggled, and made a few poor passes while struggling to get his way into shooting position.
Only twice in the regular season did the Macs score 75 or fewer points; in their only loss they put up 60, and @ Sarah Lawrence YU scored 74. In the last two games, the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, the Macs have been held to 75 and 74 points, respectively. The Macs struggles from the floor tonight were a direct result of difficulty running their motion; some of the credit goes to Farmingdale State, who played excellently defensively.
With tonight’s win, the Macs now hold the longest winning streak in Division III, and second longest in the country (Lincoln Memorial in DII is at 29 in a row). Yeshiva now moves to their third consecutive Skyline Conference Championship game, where they will face Purchase College. The Panthers, who lost to the Macs two years ago in the final, defeated Sarah Lawrence to clinch their spot.
The Championship game will be held at the Max Stern Athletic Center, with tip off scheduled for 1 PM. Keep your eye out for our gameday preview, which will be published tomorrow, for more information regarding our broadcast.