On Tuesday night, the Macs returned home to Washington Heights to take on a formidable opponent in New Jersey City University. A 10-2 NJCU run midway through the first half put YU in a nine point hole, but the Macs responded before halftime, taking a one point lead into the break. Despite the game being tied or within one point on seven different occasions in the second half, Yeshiva would never trail in the final 20 minutes, and held on for a 97-92 victory.
Both offenses were clicking in the early going, as NJCU held a 10-8 lead four minutes in. Around this time, the Gothic Knights entered into a half-court press, trying to take advantage of the Macs’ susceptibility to turning the ball over. However, YU used sharp passing and smart dribbling to break the press somewhat easily, and NJCU switched back into a man-to-man-defense. Meanwhile, the Macs worked to stop middle penetration, and tried to force NJCU players to settle for long twos.
A Gabe Leifer layup in transition following a NJCU bucket led the Gothic Knights to call timeout, despite being up 18-17. The Macs scored 23 fast break points on the night, and the ability to get down the floor quickly both off of misses and makes would be key to the Yeshiva victory.
YU would soon get into foul trouble, as NJCU was in the bonus with nine minutes on the clock; Ryan Turell picked up two, and had to sit out the remainder of the half. A Sam Toney trey completed a 9-2 NJCU run, and put the Gothic Knights up 30-21 with six minutes left in the first.
Gabe Leifer scored from the line and in the paint to bring the YU deficit to five with five remaining in the half, and NJCU switched back to their half-court press. Treys by Simcha Halpert, Bar Alluf and Ofek Reef tied the game at 34 with three minutes on the clock. The lead exchanged hands on four different occasions in these three minutes; a Leifer free throw gave the Macs a 41-40 advantage at the break.
The Macs started the second period by working the ball inside; the first eight successful field-goals for YU in the half were in the paint. One of these buckets was a highlight worthy Turell dunk-and-one, which extended the Macs’ lead to four. As a result of their working the ball inside, Yeshiva was also able to draw many fouls, and were in the bonus with 13 minutes left in the tight game. With the YU lead at just one, Reef and Halpert drilled three-pointers, giving the Macs some breathing room. Leifer then proceeded to block Michael Clement, and moments later drove to the rim and layed it in. The Macs had their biggest lead of the game, and with his Gothic Knights team down 74-67, Coach Marc Brown called timeout.
Following a couple of clutch buckets by Reef, NJCU entered into a full-court press, trying to coax the Macs into making mistakes. However, the Maccabees remained calm and composed, and a Dani Katz old-fashioned three-point play gave Yeshiva a 84-72 lead with 4:14 to go. This large advantage led the Macs to slow down their attack, and settle for poor attempts late in the shot clock; NJCU did not go away, and the lead was cut to five with 2:45 remaining. Coach Steinmetz called timeout, and told his players to get back to running their normal offense.
The Macs did just that, and Halpert hit a dagger three to bring the lead to eight. NJCU didn’t throw in the towel, however, and a trey by Sam Toney cut the lead to three with exactly a minute remaining. NJCU decided that the best strategy was to foul the Macs and hope to keep hitting their shots, but Halpert converted on two free throws, and after a miss by Toney, Turell layed it in to make the lead seven. When the clock hit zero, the scoreboard read Yeshiva 97, NJCU 92.
“It shows maturity,” said Coach Steinmetz regarding the Macs ability to execute their offense down the stretch. “I saw a willingness by our guys to correct themselves mid-game and go back to what we know works.”
The Macs scored a season-high 56 points in the second period. After the game, Ofek Reef told MacsLive that the difference maker on offense was that YU “moved the ball well in the second half, which [they] didn’t do at all in the first.” The Macs’ constant ball movement allowed Yeshiva to break down the Gothic Knights’ defense in the last 20 minutes, and kept NJCU from establishing any sort of momentum.
Gabriel Leifer had another monster performance at home, as he finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 blocks. Ofek Reef shot 8-10 from the floor, and tallied 21 points on the night. Despite struggling somewhat from outside, Simcha Halpert finished with 22 points. Ryan Turell added 14, while Dani Katz had 10 on perfect shooting from the floor. For NJCU, five players finished in double digits; they were led by Sam Toney, who scored 23 points and clutched 8 boards.
No Defense, But Lots of Defenses
NJCU struggled heavily to stop the Macs throughout the night, but they did not go down without experimenting on defense. The Gothic Knights played man-to-man for the majority of the contest, but also featured a half-court press, full-court press, and, very surprisingly, a 2-3 zone. The 2-3 zone is typically seen by the Macs’ opponents as a no-go, as Yeshiva is excellent at making quick passes, and can hit shots from anywhere on the floor. The half-court press was understandable, as the Macs are prone to turning the ball over, but YU did well to not make poor decisions when being pressed, and most of their turnovers came in the halfcourt offense against man-to-man defense. The full-court press only came at the end of the contest, when NJCU needed to force turnovers.
Tonight was more of a case of ‘which defense isn’t the worst’ than ‘which defense is the best’. The fact of the matter is that, as long as the Macs play their game, they will score a lot of points against every team they face. This game demonstrates quite clearly that the main concern going forward for YU should be their defense, be it communicating, not getting beat on one dribble, or boxing out opponents who are crashing the boards. Too many players on this team can shoot the ball well for the Macs’ offense to shut down on any given night; as long as YU plays strong defense, they will never be out of a game.
A Historic Night
Prior to the game, Simcha Halpert received a commemorative ball, on the occasion of reaching 1500 career points on Sunday. The history, however, did not stop there. With the win, the Macs are now 11-1, which is the best start as an NCAA basketball program in Yeshiva’s history. YU is also the first Division III team to 11 wins, which is an unprecedented accomplishment for any Yeshiva University team.
The Macs look to extend their 11-game winning streak on Thursday, when they will travel to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to take on Moravian College. This will be YU’s last game until late January, and is the Macs only remaining chance until then to impress the voters at D3hoops.com. The Macs received 12 votes in their top 25 poll (released on Monday), placing YU in a tie for 35th in all of Division III. Moravian is a quality opponent; the Greyhounds won a game in the NCAA Tournament last year. That game will tip off at 7.