Yeshiva basketball players revel in their winning streak

Yeshiva University combo guard Ryan Turell dropped 42 points in two games against the University of Saint Joseph last week and another 25 against Stevens Monday night. He leads the Maccabees ("it's like a Jewish warrior," he explained of the mascot) in scoring through seven games this season, as he did a season ago. But his coach tells his team to focus not on numbers but on letters — namely, the letter W.

"We just kept winning," Turell said.

The Maccabees stretched the nation's longest active winning streak at any level of college hoops to 36 games Monday, tying the second-longest streak in Division III history.

"We're not a superstitious bunch," Head Coach Elliot Steinmetz said. "We talk about it."

Steinmetz started for this team two decades ago.

"I'm not sure I would get playing time on our current team," he said.

Steinmetz has recruited a squad of players from all across the country and Israel to build one of the most dominant programs in college sports today, training his players in the art of — among other things — the sports cliche.

"Right now," Turell said, "we just got to take it one game at a time."

"We're definitely focusing on each game at a time," senior captain power forward Gabriel Leifer said.

"Last year really was one game at a time," Steinmetz said.

Then the pandemic ended a 2020 Y.U. postseason run before the DIII Sweet 16 and canceled the 2021 tournament altogether.

"It's definitely painful," Leifer said.

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Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions have now denied seniors like Leifer two very legitimate chances at a national championship.

"It's horrible that they didn't get to experience that tournament one more time," Turell said, "or that feeling of the fans being there."

Yeshiva's win streak adds some incentive to unprecedented senior seasons of face masks, COVID tests, and very little hanging out outside the gym.

"It's college," Turell said, "[but] we stay away from going to parties and whatnot."

"You go with that mantra: It's the journey not the result," Steinmetz said.

"The best we can do right now is just win games," Turell said. "Show the world that Jews can play.

But both players and coach admit the novelty (for their opponents) of facing cold-blooded jump-shooters in yarmulkes dissipated a while ago.

"Not a big fan of it," Steinmetz said. "Never was."

"Now we have the target on our back," Leifer said.

"We love it," Turell said. "It's just recognition for all the hard work we put in."

"I love rooting for an underdog," Steinmetz said. "I just don't ever want to be one. Give me the best players."

This school in Washington Heights of just 6,300 or so undergraduate and graduate students now no longer needs to sell recruits on playing there.

"We're now taking phone calls," Steinmetz said. "We're turning guys away."

And while Leifer hopes the school can schedule one of the top-two-ranked teams in the country for later this season before he graduates, his coach looks forward to the 2022 postseason.

"The opportunity to finish is something we'll hope for next year, I guess," Steinmetz said.

Meanwhile, Turell familiarizes himself with the NCAA's eligibility rules.

"Gabe [Leifer] can use an extra year of eligibility," Turell said. "It's definitely legal so I'm encouraging him to come back."