Marek Dolezaj Flexes Offensive Muscles as Syracuse Wins First ACC Tournament Game in Program History
By Christian De Guzman
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Syracuse fans in the Barclays Center wanted Marek Dolezaj to shoot 18 feet away from the basket. The freshman held onto the ball instead.
Everyone in the arena soon found out why.
Dolezaj played with aggression on Tuesday, attacking the basket and causing problems in the paint. The freshman scored a career-high 20 points at the Barclays Center as Syracuse (20-12) defeated Wake Forest (11-20) in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The win gives SU its first ACC Tournament victory in program history.
Dolezaj’s previous career-high in points was 12 against Boston College on January 24th. On Tuesday, the Slovakian found himself open in the paint and around the post. That allowed him to throw down dunks or drive to the rim. If Dolezaj didn’t make a shot, he got to the free throw line. Eight of his points came from the charity stripe.
“When [Wake Forest] went to the zone, they left him in open spots,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said.
Dolezaj hasn’t been consistent for Syracuse offensively this season. SU’s previous game against Clemson gave fans a taste of what the freshman could do offensively, when he scored eight points. He clearly built on that performance on Tuesday.
“I’m trying to improve every day,” Dolezaj said. “I was always wide open and I was trying to dunk it.”
Syracuse has relied on strong performances from Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett throughout the season to carry the team offensively. Tuesday saw all five Orange starters record double-digit points.
Loss in the mix of Dolezaj’s career night was the play of Paschal Chukwu. The Providence transfer scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Orange found Chukwu open for lob opportunities throughout the game to break the Wake Forest defense.
“The bigs stepped up and left Paschal wide open,” said Battle. “He’s gonna catch that lob every time.”
Up next for Syracuse is a rematch against North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Orange in the Carrier Dome on February 21, 78-74, in a game that was much closer than many anticipated. A career night from Theo Pinson propelled the Tar Heels to victory, but Syracuse played right to the buzzer with the men in baby blue.
“We just made some costly turnovers at the end of the game,” said Battle. “We just have to clean those things up and we’ll be fine.”
But for now, Syracuse can celebrate a crucial victory against Wake Forest that slightly strengthens its NCAA tournament resume. A big night from an improving freshman proved to be the difference maker.
“[Marek’s] a talented kid,” said Howard. “We just want to put him in spots where he can be productive.”
It’ll be tough for Syracuse to keep Dolezaj hot against a North Carolina team looking to repeat as national champions.