The 2020-2021 Yeshiva University Maccabees season was unlike any other in the team’s 86-year history. The Macs picked up right where they left off last year, going undefeated by winning all seven of their contests, thereby extending their winning streak to a mind-numbing 36 games—tied for the second-longest streak in DIII history. They accomplished this feat despite an increased level of out-of-conference play, demonstrating for the second season in a row that they are a contender on the national stage. Along the way, the team received national media coverage, from CNN, ABC, and the LA Times, on their winning streak and their D3hoops ranking—third in the end-of-year poll.
This season, however, was not all smooth sailing. Firstly, the Macs were required to practice in pods, limiting the number of practices they could hold as a collective group and preventing full familiarity with each other’s playstyles. This limited interaction with other players, combined with over half the roster being totally new players, meant that many first saw the floor for an extended time together during actual games. In addition, their schedule endured changes seemingly daily, as at least six of Yeshiva’s games were canceled on short notice due to COVID-19 protocols, including the final three scheduled games. The season's finish left the Macs feeling powerless and incapable of controlling their own destiny.
The conclusion of this season had a similar feeling to last March, when the NCAA Tournament was shut down just prior to the third round, putting a stamp on the Macs’ dreams of becoming DIII champions. “The ending to the season seems quite familiar,” said star sophomore Ofek Reef. “On the bright side, we were able to get in several games.”
However, there are several noteworthy ways to look at this Macs’ season. This is the Yeshiva University Maccabees season recap.
Game by Game Summary
Game #1- Yeshiva @ Manhattanville
The Macs started off slow in their first game in over 11 months, as they led by just three, 35-32, with four minutes remaining in the first half. They then proceeded to turn on the jets and outscored the Valiants 63-44 the rest of the way. Ryan Turell scored a game-high 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, newly appointed Captain Eitan Halpert scored 21 points, and Reef had an efficient 16 points on 6/8 shooting and went 4/4 from the free-throw line.
Game #2- Yeshiva vs. Manhattanville
YU rematched MVille fewer than 18 hours later, this time playing in the Max Stern Athletic Center. In the first half, the Maccabees came out firing from deep, netting 11 of 23 3-point attempts, and led 43-32 at the break. In the second period Manhattanville started to chip away, cutting the lead to just four points, before the Macs slowly but surely pulled away, ultimately winning by 21. Leading the way for Yeshiva was Turell with 36 points (on 12/18 shooting) and 13 rebounds, Halpert with 17 points and five assists, and Gabe Leifer who picked up a triple-double with 12 points, 12 boards, 12 assists, and three steals.
Game #3- Yeshiva @ Rochester
After a very slow opening 20 minutes which finished with the score knotted at 26, Yeshiva picked up the pace in the second half, scoring 44 points to Rochester’s 37. Clutch 3-point shooting by Sammy Merkin was instrumental to the Macs’ third straight win to start the season. The stat leaders for Yeshiva were Turell with 18 points, five rebounds, and six assists, Leifer with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Halpert with 17 points, and transfer Matan Zucker with 12 points, nine rebounds, and four assists.
Game #4- Yeshiva vs. USMMA
The Macs found themselves tied at the intermission due to 9 first-half turnovers and 2/11 shooting from 3. However, the second half was completely different. The team shot 8/13 from deep in the final 20 minutes, en route to a 19-point victory. Turell led the way with 30 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, while Gabe Leifer almost got his second triple-double of the season, finishing a monster game with 20 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals.
Game #5- Yeshiva vs. Saint Joseph
In a battle with legendary basketball coach Jim Calhoun’s team, the Macs took a 37-29 first-half lead. However, without Reef in the second half, freshman Oren Betesh saw extended playing time and cashed in on two of three 3-pointers, as the Macs won a close game by a score of 78-71. Turell finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two blocks, Halpert scored 20 points, and Leifer narrowly missed a triple-double for the second straight game with 13 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, and four blocks.
Game #6- Yeshiva @ Saint Joseph
For the first time this season, Yeshiva was down at halftime (35-27), partially due to 11/31 shooting from the field. However, the Macs dominated in the second period, shooting 6/12 from deep and 8/11 from the charity stripe, outscoring Saint Joseph 44-27 and winning the game 71-62. Turell scored 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds, Leifer had 14 points, 11 boards, and six assists, and Ofek Reef finished with 12 points.
Game #7- Yeshiva @ Stevens
The Macs dominated from start to finish against a shorthanded Stevens squad, leading at the break by a score of 49-23, and winning 88-70. Halpert was as hot as ever, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12/15 shooting (6/7 from 3), while also dishing out six assists and recording five steals. Ryan Turell was dominant as usual with 25 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks, Ofek Reef had 10 points and three steals, and Gabe Leifer, in what may have been his last game with the Macs, scored six points, dished out seven assists, and blocked four shots.
The Macs’ Winning Streak and Significance in D3 History
The Maccabees ended last season with a 29-game win streak, far and away the longest streak in the team's history. The Macs continued the streak this season, and following the fifth straight win for the Macs (and 34th overall), D3hoops.com published an article that included a list of longest winning streaks in Division III history, featuring the Macs at 3rd. Suddenly, there was a new narrative to the season; even if there were no Skyline Conference Championships and no NCAA DIII Tournament, the Macs were on a separate quest: to break DIII’s all-time win-streak record.
After a hard-fought win against Saint Joseph and a blowout victory against Stevens, the Macs moved into a tie for second place, with UW-Platteville, with 36 straight victories, and a chance to take sole possession of the second-place spot against Manhattanville College. However, both games against Manhattanville were suddenly canceled, and after being postponed and rescheduled, the Macs’ final game of the season against Sarah Lawrence College was also canceled, leaving the Macs tied for second place with no games left in the season. The record for consecutive wins in Division III is 60, set by SUNY Potsdam from 1985-1987.
YU Macs Make National Headlines
Following the realization of the significance of the Macs’ winning streak, the Yeshiva University Men's Basketball Team began to receive national coverage for their fantastic play. After the Maccabees won their 35th straight game, the New York Daily News published a fantastic article on March 6th detailing their win streak, how difficult it has been to play in the midst of a pandemic, and the weight of the Jewish world that the Yeshiva Maccabees continuously carry on their shoulders. In the following week and a half, similar articles and videos detailing the Yeshiva University basketball team and its dominance spread to other well-known news outlets, such as Fox5NY, ABC7NY, and CNN.
On March 17, the Los Angeles Times published an incredible piece detailing Ryan Turell and his journey to Yeshiva, and his ultimate goal of being an Orthodox Jew in the NBA, an article that was shared in just about every group chat in YU and the greater Jewish community. The article details Turell’s upbringing, from shooting and dribbling coaching at the age of five to training and playing with D1 talent and professional basketball players during YU offseasons, all decisions that seem to be paying off, as multiple NBA teams have Turell on their radar. A week later, Fox5NY published a similar article outlining how NBA teams were taking note of the incredible skill set and talent Turell has.
In addition to the media coverage YU has received, the Macs also received national attention in another form, their ranking among the Division III elite. Every week, D3hoops.com published its poll of the top 15 teams in the nation (usually top 25, but fewer teams competing this season due to COVID-19 meant fewer spots), in which the Maccabees ranked as high as eighth last season. This season, the Macs slowly continued to rise, finishing the year as the number three ranked team in all of Division III, a number that would have been unconscionable two seasons ago. With their newfound dominance, Yeshiva will hopefully now be able to schedule more marquee matchups.
Gabe Leifer: End of an Era (Maybe)
If you have watched the YU Macs play at any point in the past three-and-a-half years, you most certainly know Gabe Leifer. Leifer has been a superstar for YU; from floor spacing, shot-blocking, ball movement, leadership, and even more, Leifer has positively affected the Macs in every single facet of the game, both on and off the court. Since Division III decided that this season would not count against a player’s eligibility, Leifer can potentially play one more year with the Macs. However, there is much uncertainty about his return, given that he will be graduating from the Sy Syms School of Business undergraduate program in just a few months and may look to retire his Macs jersey and enter the workforce.
In his time at YU, Leifer has had his name etched all over the record book. For a career, Leifer places 12th in points with 1322 (nine points away from 10th all-time, and 57 away from sixth all-time), fourth in rebounds with 973 (27 away from becoming the fourth Maccabee to reach 1,000 career rebounds), first in total assists with 456 (61 more than second all-time), and first in triple-doubles, with five (good luck finding anyone else in Macs’ history with even one).
Furthermore, he has dominated single-season records, holding both the single-season rebounding and assist crowns, with 412 rebounds and 199 assists (and placing among the highest in other seasons too). In terms of per-game numbers, Leifer has set the single-season assists per-game record with 6.86 and is third all-time in career assists per-game with 5.77, and has also set the sixth-highest rebounds per-game number with 13.7 (the second-highest number since 1980), and is third in career rebounds per-game with 12.3.
If all this wasn’t enough to show the kind of impact Leifer has produced for YU, here is another way to demonstrate it: From 1955-1959 the Mighty Mites (as they were named at the time) put together the best four years in Yeshiva’s history, winning 51 games and only losing 25, a winning percentage of 67.1%. In these past four years, the Macs have gone 71-20, a 78% winning percentage, setting the program record in either wins in a season or winning percentage every year. However, Leifer did not play the first half of that first season (due to staying a second year in Israel), and YU went 6-8 before his arrival, compared to an incredible 12-3 with him. With that taken into account, if we exclude the first half of that season when Leifer wasn't even playing, the Macs’ record with Leifer has been 65-12 for an incredible winning percentage of 84.4%. With Leifer, Yeshiva has obliterated just about every single statistic that has been set by previous Yeshiva teams, showing just how instrumental he is to the success of the team.
Gabe Leifer is one of the greatest players in Yeshiva University history, and should he choose to not continue playing, we want to thank him on behalf of the Yeshiva basketball community for all of his efforts over the past three-and-a-half years.
While restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented fans from attending Macs games, MacsLive continued to flourish during this extremely turbulent season, and there are many people to thank for this.
First, the year started off with a few extremely generous donations that helped MacsLive drastically upgrade our gameday production, including precision-like clarity, multiple angles, and instant replay capabilities. This gave our viewers the best possible at-home experience, a necessary addition to an at-home season. Anyone who watched the live streams this season could immediately see the jump in quality, and for that, we are incredibly grateful.
Secondly, we would be remiss if we did not thank all of our hard-working and talented MacsLive staff. Due to the contributions of members of MacsLive, a season that could have been buried due to COVID-19 felt just as exciting as in years past. From gameday production to articles and highlight videos, the MacsLive team was there every step of the way, making sure that our loyal fans would get to see all the angles of our beloved Yeshiva University Maccabees team.
And last, but certainly not least, thanks to you, the reader of this article. MacsLive was founded in order to give everyone the opportunity to be a Macs fan without leaving the comfort of one’s home, and without all of you, our dedicated fanbase, who tuned into our broadcasts and read our articles, we would just be a group of students with fancy cameras and a sports addiction.
This season will always be remembered as the year of COVID-19, but there were many positives that can and should be highlighted. “We are thankful to the school for allowing us to compete,” said Leifer. “It’s a tremendous opportunity and position to be in when we still had the fan following that we had. All we could do was do our job and get better every day and win every game we played.”
The team followed through on Leifer’s message, extending its winning streak from 29 to 36 games, tied for second in DIII history. Likewise, the Macs showed that they can beat highly-vaunted competition on a national level, such as Rochester, Saint Joseph, and Stevens. There was also all the media attention the Maccabees squad received from news outlets, such as ABC7 and FOX5, and the slow rise in ranking to an all-time high in D3hoops’s poll.
Despite the bumps in the road resulting from the ongoing pandemic, there is no doubt in my mind that this season should be remembered as an incredibly successful one.
Even though the Maccabees’ season is over, that does not mean MacsLive is finished for the year. Stayed tuned for off-season content, including articles about past and present YU players, highlight and reaction videos, Sarachek archives, and more to be published throughout the school year and over the summer.