By Mauricio Rivera
For the Mitzpeh
After a weekend filled with scheduled festivities, prayer services and preliminary games, bracket play began for all Jewish basketball teams from universities around the country who gathered for the fifth annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament on Sunday, April 19.
Jewish athletes from a wide range of universities prepared for bracket play throughout the weekend that saw competition ramp up in games that were now win or go home.
“I think the level of play certainly went up and that’s been the case every year,” said tournament co-chair Jacob Neumark. “I think the best basketball players really came out.”
Preliminary games in the form of a round-robin tournament were played the previous day and continued Sunday morning for the men’s and women’s tournaments to determine seeding.
By 1 p.m., both brackets had been set and play was in full swing.
With 35 teams participating in the men’s tournament this year, competition was stiff but many of the top-seeded teams took care of business early in the tournament. Scoring margins drew closer as the tournament continued into the later rounds.
“There were four overtime games and two buzzer-beaters,” said Joseph Tuchman, junior business major and tournament chair. “The games were pretty competitive, and it really came down to five or six teams that could’ve won the tournament.
One matchup in particular drew crowd reaction reminiscent of NCAA March Madness. Top seeds UMD (team captain Langer) and Boston University met in the semifinals. UMD (Langer) had control for most of the game until BU tied things up near the end of regulation, sending the game into overtime. Both teams went back and forth during the first two overtime periods, but a clutch three-point buzzer-beater in a third overtime by senior BU player Max Feldstein clinched the win.
“It was one of the most exciting games we’ve ever had at the tournament,” Tuchman said.
The shot sent BU to the championship game where they met Yeshiva University (S. Weiss). The game wasn’t as close as the previous semifinal contest, as BU did not relinquish the lead in the final game culminating in a 40-37 championship win for the team. Feldstein was named MVP.
In women’s bracket play, there was precedent for the UMD team (Siegel), which has won the championship every year since the tournament’s inception in 2011. Though there were only eight teams participating in the women’s bracket, play was still very competitive.
UMD (Siegel) continued winning, clinching a berth in the championship game for the fifth consecutive year where they played Stern (Levy) in a close game. In a tough fight, UMD (Siegel) lost for the first time and Stern (Levy) secured their first NHBT tournament win with a final score of 22-17. Senior Stephanie Weinstein was named MVP.
Overall, bracket play and the NHBT was successful according to the 19 board members in charge of the annual competition.
“This was clearly the best tournament we’ve had,” Tuchman said. “We doubled our fundraising and brought all our sponsors back and more. We’re really looking forward to next year.”