By Daniel Oyefusi
The remaining 16 teams in four different brackets faced off Sunday morning in the Xfinity Center for the semifinal matchups of the National Hillel Basketball Tournament.
In the women’s bracket, Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University routed the University of Maryland 27-7 while NHBT-Aboodi cruised to a 22-14 win over NHBT-Furer.
Stern’s game was back-and-forth early on, but they pulled away in the second half, stifling Maryland’s offense the entire game.
“It is my first time here, and it was awesome,” said Ellie Parker, a sophomore data analytics major at Stern. “I am nervous for the championship.”
The game between Aboodi and Furer was a clash of two free-agent teams assembled just before the tournament started.
Like Stern’s game against Maryland, this matchup was also highly contested in the first half, with multiple players diving to the floor for loose balls resulting in lots of jump balls. It was a one- or two-possession game throughout, but Aboodi used its frenetic pace to get to the basket, draw fouls on Furer and eventually pull away.
“Some of us didn’t even know each other, going into the tournament,” said Rachel Aboodi, a junior psychology major at the University of Pennsylvania. “It definitely was physical. Both sides were very tough, we were just tougher in the end.”
In the men’s Tier 2 bracket, Queens-Levine defeated Rutgers-Newmark, 42-34, while Texas used a late second-half comeback to get past Columbia-Cooper, 41-40.
Queens-Levine was aided by a small fan section of four students who drove from New York to cheer on their friends.
“We wanted to come and show our support and really bring out the team spirit for the underdogs,” said Katie Glickman, a sophomore anthropology major at Queens. “We really think that our team spirit had an impact, and we are really proud.”
Texas looked to be outmatched in their game, falling into a double-digit hole early in the first half. However, the team locked down on defense and sped up their pace of play. With just three seconds left in the game, Texas hit a go-ahead jump shot to finish off the comeback.
“I had no idea what to expect coming in,” said Alex Engel, a sophomore finance major. “It is really cool that there are schools from all over the country. We are one of the farthest traveling so we are around schools we have never been around.”
Only one game was played in the men’s Tier 3 bracket, as Princeton-Swagel forfeited their match against NHBT prior to Sunday’s game.
In the bracket’s other match, Maryland-Goldstein faced off against Columbia-Presser. Maryland started off hot, getting out to a 12-4 lead in the first couple minutes. After trading back-and-forth outside shots, Columbia cut the Maryland lead to four with five minutes left in the first half.
Maryland would then force multiple turnovers and turn those into fastbreak points, closing the half on a 12-0 run and leading 27-13 at the intermission.
That hot streak continued into the second half, as Maryland increased their lead to as much as 22 en route to a 45-23 win.
“When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I remember my older brothers coming here to play. And I have been hoping to play in this tournament for a long time,” said Jason Scheff, a freshman kinesiology major.
The Tier 3 bracket also provided a thrilling come-from-behind victory in which Johns Hopkins-Blustein fought back from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat Chicago-Siegel in overtime.
Chicago used easy penetration and a myriad of outside shots to build a double-digit lead at halftime, but Johns Hopkins got tough on defense and worked the ball around on offense in the second half.
Johns Hopkins methodically cut into the Chicago lead, tying the game at 34 with seconds remaining. After a last-second desperation shot came up short, the two teams prepped for a three-minute overtime session.
Chicago wouldn’t be able to stop Johns Hopkins’ momentum in the extra time. Two free throws gave Johns Hopkins a 38-36 lead with 10 seconds remaining; the team then forced a turnover by pressing Chicago in the backcourt, which led to an emphatic dunk as time expired and a 40-36 win.
“We lost last year [in the first round],” said Joshua Blustein, a sophomore economics and international studies major at Johns Hopkins. “Here we are in the championship game with one more chance. Let’s do it big.”
In the second matchup, Yeshiva University-Weiss went head-to-head with Baruch-Shamah. Yeshiva started with a 6-1 run, using their height advantage in the post. Baruch stayed close in the first half and was only down 19-17 heading into the second.
But Yeshiva would pull away in the second half, using their post play again to get easy layups and draw fouls, en route to a 42-26 win.
“I think it is beautiful to see how they connect Jews from all over the country,” said Daniel Tamir, a senior finance major at Yeshiva. “We want to win at least one [championship] before we graduate.”