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Yeshiva basketball eliminated from NCAA tourney after thrilling comeback falls short

Down two points and with 15 seconds left, the Maccabees had the ball in the hands of its best player, the nation’s leading scorer, who had led a furious comeback in the game’s last two minutes.

With hundreds of Yeshiva University faithful in attendance and thousands more watching on a livestream, Ryan Turell dribbled upcourt, blanketed by a Johns Hopkins defender. They tangoed to the left wing. Then Turell spun and burst toward the right elbow, faked the defender into the air, leaned forward and shot — and missed, from about five feet.

A minute or two later, the season — that began with Yeshiva extending its multi-season winning streak to 50 games, saw the team featured in The New York Times and ESPN, and climaxed with the team repeating as conference champions — ended in a 63-59 first-round tournament defeat.

With Turell and co-star Gabriel Leifer likely to depart after the season, the loss marks the end of an era for Coach Elliot Steinmetz’s Maccabees that began with the recruitment several years ago of a batch of Jewish high school seniors who hadn’t planned to play college hoops at all.

Behind Steinmetz, a lawyer-by-day who played for Yeshiva in the 2000s, the Macs wielded a simple motion offense as a devastating weapon. Behind Turell, a 6’7” wing whose scoring prowess and yarmulke made him a national sensation, and Leifer, a burly, dynamic forward, Yeshiva shot up to a No.1 in the Division III rankings, a first in school history.

The Macs rattled off victory after blowout victory, but rarely faced the quality of opponent they met Friday afternoon in Stockton, New Jersey. Johns Hopkins exploited a size advantage on defense, with 6’8” Sydney Thybulle — cousin of NBA all-league defender Matisse Thybulle — swatting away shots and deflecting passes.

The Macs struggled to score all afternoon — the team that averaged more than 80 points per game only had 28 at halftime — and fell behind by double digits before a sudden pulse in the last two minutes led by Turell nearly salvaged their season.

With three minutes left, Yeshiva trailed by nine. That’s when Turell, a former Valley Torah High School star with curly blonde hair who became a bona fide Washington Heights celebrity as he lifted YU hoops to new heights, came alive.

ari berman yu at basketball game

YU president Ari Berman (in suit) rocks out with Macs fans as Yeshiva cut a double-digit deficit to two late in Friday’s game. Courtesy of Screenshot from Macslive.com

He came off a pindown screen — a staple of the motion offense — and drilled a three from the right wing. With about one minute left, he got fouled on another three-point attempt, and made each free throw to cut the deficit to five. A step-back, fadeaway Turell triple from the left wing with 44 seconds left — made possible by a Yeshiva full-court press — hit nothing but net.

With the Blue Jays trying to run out the clock up by two, Ethan Lasko — the only Yeshiva player outside of Turell able to muster offense Friday — drew a charge, giving the Macs one last chance. Yeshiva University president Ari Berman could be seen jumping up and down as the fans in attendance chanted “Mishenichnas Adar” — whoever enters the Hebrew month of Adar, which started Friday, increases in joy. Another 4,500 people watching a YouTube livestream held their breath.

But the final shot went long, and the Yeshiva season fell short.


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