On Thursday night, the Macs headed to Farmingdale State for the first time since last year’s Skyline Championship game. YU came in looking to prove that they were the team to beat in the conference this year, and they certainly demonstrated that tonight. With the Macs leading 56-41 in the second half, Farmingdale State went on an extended 22-8 run, cutting YU’s lead to just one. However, the Macs responded with a 13-2 run of their own, putting the game out of reach. Yeshiva came out victorious by a final score of 79-72, as the Macs won their eighth straight game and remained undefeated in Skyline play.
“Defense wins championships, plain and simple,” said Gabriel Leifer on the team’s effort down the stretch. “At the end of the day, that’s why we won.”
The Macs started off the game with crisp ball movement, and Simcha Halpert found Dani Katz down low to give Yeshiva the 2-0 lead. After a Farmingdale State bucket, Katz took advantage of the loose Rams’ defense, drilling an open 3 to make the score 5-2. The story of the game in the early going was turnovers, as both teams gave the ball up numerous times. A De’Shawn Todman turnover led to an Ofek Reef three, and with the Macs up 14-6, the Rams called timeout.
After a Jermaine Fraser layup, YU executed their second home-run pass to Simcha Halpert of the game, and took back the eight point lead; a Caleb Milobsky layup made it 10. After some back and forth play, Bar Alluf drained a 3, and the Macs were up 28-16.
With the score at 30-22, Gabe Leifer committed his second foul, and had to sit for the final five minutes of the half. Yet the YU offense kept working to perfection, as the Macs went on an 8-2 run, highlighted by a beautifully arching three by Halpert. With Leifer on the bench, YU scored 14 points; the Halpert brothers combined for all but two of these. At the half, the Macs held a 44-35 advantage; Simcha Halpert and Ofek Reef had 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The second half started just like the first, with a Dani Katz layup, this time off of a perfect pass from Leifer. Gabe knocked down a three after a Katz steal, and the Rams called timeout just two minutes into the period.
Troy Feeney and Ryan Kennedy would each knock down treys for Farmingdale State, but both were followed up by Ofek Reef layups off of cuts to the basket. After a Leifer bucket made the YU lead 15, the Rams finally found their stroke. Farmingdale would go on an 11-2 run, as five different players scored, and with 11 minutes to go and the Macs up 58-52, Coach Steinmetz burned a timeout.
A Halpert 3 would be the only bucket for Yeshiva in the next five minutes, as the Macs went cold from the field. Kennedy and Anthony Miller Jr. nailed three-pointers, and with 4:54 to go, the Macs’ once large lead was cut to one.
That’s when the Yeshiva defense stepped up. The Macs stayed glued to the Farmingdale State players, giving them no room to breath. They got back on defense for every possession, and boxed out to perfection. After a beautiful feed from Katz to a cutting Reef for 2, Simcha Halpert decided to put a lid on the Rams. He knocked down a huge three-pointer, and after a Jermaine Fraser layup, drilled another one from the parking lot. A Reef drive to the basket made the lead 11 with 80 seconds to go, and any tension which had existed a few minutes prior was gone. When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read Maccabees 79, Rams 72.
“They’re a well-coached, talented team,” said Leifer after the game. “We knew that from the start they’d give us their best shot, and we just had to respond.”
For the Macs, all five starters played more than 30 minutes, and combined to score all but five of Yeshiva’s points. Reef and Halpert had 22 points each, as they combined to shoot 17-24 from the field and 6-11 from 3. Dani Katz contributed 13 points, while Leifer pulled down 16 rebounds. Troy Feeney and Ryan Kennedy led the way for the Rams, scoring 16 and 13, respectively.
What Were the Main Factors in Tonight’s Victory?
1) Defense Coming Up Huge When it Mattered Most
With the YU lead down to one, the Macs locked down on defense, allowing just two points in the span of four minutes. Farmingdale State wasn’t missing open shots; rather, the Macs didn’t allow the Rams to get open. Up until that point, the YU players guarding near the corners sometimes lost their man, which led to uncontested three-pointers. This was completely cleaned up in the final five minutes. The YU guards also did not allow themselves to get beat on one dribble when Rams players tried driving to the rim; the Macs’ help-defense fell right into place. When the Macs needed a momentum-shifter most, it was the defense which provided it.
2) Great Ball Movement
If I had to choose one positive thing that has stood out this year for the Macs, it is undoubtedly YU’s ball movement in the halfcourt offense. Tonight was no exception, as the Macs’ slow breakdown of the Rams’ defense with quick and well-executed passing opened up many scoring opportunities which otherwise would not have existed. Throughout the night YU players used off-ball movement to get free, and were then hit with crisp passes to set up open shots. If the Macs continue to move the ball around and exploit weaknesses in the defense like they have so far this year, YU will be very tough to beat.
3) Making the Rams Pay for Their Mistakes
As noted in the MacsLive.com Keys to the Game, the Rams have struggled this year with turnovers. Tonight was no exception, as Farmingdale State gave up the ball 19 times. The Macs capitalized on these mistakes, as Yeshiva scored 25 points off of turnovers. In addition, by being ready to take advantage of poor passing and ball-handling errors, the Macs were able to keep the Rams from getting into a proper rhythm on offense.
With the win, the Macs are now 8-1, and 4-0 in Skyline Conference play. YU finishes off a stretch of three division games in six days when they take on St. Joseph’s College-Long Island in Patchogue on Sunday.