Marek Dolezaj’s career outing propels Syracuse past Wake Forest, 73-64

first_imgNEW YORK — Everything was settled, but freshman forward Oshae Brissett understood there was one thing missing in this moment.The orange sea of fans writhed in the Barclays Center lower bowl. The players knew they got to play tomorrow. The team’s unlikely star, though, had a near-perfect night. Near. Brissett walked up to Marek Dolezaj and told him what he needed to do.“You’re not leaving here with 19 points,” Brissett told him. “You need to get 20.”On the next in-bounds, Brissett found Dolezaj, who was fouled and went to the line with 31 seconds left. He followed Brissett’s instructions to post a new career-high, but not before missing the first free-throw and hitting the second. Two games ago, Dolezaj didn’t attempt a shot and Tuesday night his game-high 20 complemented his four rebounds and one assist to lead No. 11-seed Syracuse (20-12, 8-10 Atlantic Coast) to a 73-64 victory over No. 14-seed Wake Forest (11-20, 4-12).This was the first-ever ACC tournament victory for the Orange and snapped a four-game losing streak on this court. The win sent Syracuse into a second-round matchup with No. 6-seeded North Carolina on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. at the Barclay’s Center.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textDolezaj was an instrumental part of that, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said, adding, “He was very, very good today.”As Dolezaj spoke at his locker after the game, the Slovakian freshman seemed transported back to Europe. Each time someone asked him, “Have you ever done…” he smiled shyly and said that, yes, he had done something like this before, but not since coming to the United States last fall. Back in Europe, back with the under-18 national team, he said, he once scored 48 points, once dunked three times in one game and once played like the flying, slamming, swatting bulldozer he became Tuesday night.When asked how his performance felt, Dolezaj said seriously, “It was a little fun. I enjoyed this game. I’m going to get some rest for tomorrow’s game.”All of it started with a simple jumper from the high post.It was the shot fans in the Carrier Dome have begged Dolezaj to put up all season. It was the shot Boeheim has frantically motioned him to take. It was one of the Dome’s main frustrations during Syracuse’s Saturday win over Clemson, because when Dolezaj got the ball in the high-post, he refused to shoot. He heard their urging, but he adhered to Boeheim’s instructions.“A lot of people told me shoot the ball,” he said, “but I’m trying to focus on my game and what I can do.”Early in the first half, Dolezaj drilled one from the high-post. Then he fell into a funk. He threw the ball away, missed his follow-up jumper and picked up a foul boxing out. Then Wake Forest big man Doral Moore whacked him in the face with his elbow and Dolezaj transformed.After that play, which had Dolezaj holding his head for several possessions afterward, he finished an and-1 despite getting stonewalled by two larger defenders. He tear-dropped a floater and the bench mob sprang to its feet to emulate his shot. He finished at the rim and, once, when a pass from Chukwu deflected off a defender’s hands, he snared the ball from midair and jammed it home.Courtesy of Shea R. KastrinerWhen asked when he knew Dolezaj was turning a few baskets into a bona fide career night, Brissett grinned.“He caught like three bodies,” Brissett said, referring to the trio of defenders Dolezaj dunked on. “So, probably the first one. I haven’t really seen him dunk on someone like that before.”Late in the first half, Wake Forest switched from a man defense to a zone. Boeheim saw defenders departing Dolezaj in the middle and the short corner to leave him open. Methodically, Syracuse dissected Wake Forest’s zone and bludgeoned the Demon Deacons into submission with passing inside between center Paschal Chukwu, who had three assists, and Dolezaj.Wake Forest started to press late in the game and Dolezaj became the primary breaker. In that scenario, he dunked twice. Boeheim told him since the defender always ran out to stop the ball, Dolezaj would have an open lob to Chukwu. On the last time he carried the ball up, with the game winding down, and with the Orange’s lead stretched to nearly 20, that’s exactly what happened and Chukwu flushed Dolezaj’s alley-oop to essentially bang the gavel on Wake Forest’s fate.On each basket Dolezaj finished or facilitated, Syracuse assistant head coach Adrian Autry reacted with a harder fist pump or clap. By the time Dolezaj sank that last free throw, Autry was on his feet.Of all his plays, though, no moment was more revealing than his and-1 dunk, when he launched himself through contact to jam. His team bounced and hollered in disbelief. “I was pretty impressed to see that,” Tyus Battle said, “because we know he has the one-foot bounce, but I was surprised about the two feet.”As he came down from the rim, Dolezaj himself broke the blank, impassive face he’d worn nearly every minute of this season. He appeared to yell over to the same bench that had egged him on earlier and betray a quick smile, a window that closed as quickly as it opened. On this night, on this stage, the young, lightly recruited, Flat Stanley-thin foreigner played his best game of the season.After it was over, as the quiet settled like a fog and the team hurried off the court and the fans, who had been shrieking for him moments earlier, shuffled back to the exits and real life, the bright light of an ESPN camera found Dolezaj. The reporter put the microphone in Dolezaj’s face. The player disappeared; the person withdrew. Dolezaj didn’t think he spoke English well enough to give a national TV interview. He felt uncomfortable. Autry, standing beside him, waved away the camera. Dolezaj walked to the locker room.He showed everyone everything they needed to see. Comments Published on March 6, 2018 at 11:29 pm Contact Sam: sjfortie@syr.edu | @Sam4TR Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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