Marek Dolezaj blossoms into Syracuse’s best player in a 57-52 win over TCU

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ DETROIT — Marek Dolezaj sat in front of his locker in the Orange tank top he wears under his jersey, taken aback and frustrated. Moments earlier he’d been grinning from ear to ear as he recounted how he scored a team-high 17 points on the biggest stage of his young career.Now, he was being asked to flash back to a moment two-and-a-half weeks earlier. When Syracuse lost its second-to-last game of the season at Boston College on Feb. 28. When Dolezaj ended the game without even attempting a shot. When after the game, head coach Jim Boeheim publicly stated that Dolezaj, forward Matthew Moyer and center Paschal Chukwu — the secondary players on SU’s team — couldn’t score.“I was really mad,” Dolezaj said. “I didn’t shoot any baskets. I was really mad that I didn’t shoot.”Like most freshman, Dolezaj has grown and adjusted throughout his first experience playing at the highest collegiate level. But his transformation from timid freshman to Syracuse’s Slovakian star occurred right as college basketball’s most important month began, helping will a team to victory that all season had been led by three others.It reached its pinnacle on Friday night as No. 11 seed Syracuse (22-13, 8-10 Atlantic Coast) dispatched No. 6 seed TCU (21-12, 9-9 Big 12), 57-52, in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament. Dolezaj scored 13 first-half points and was Syracuse’s only consistent option on offense for nearly the entire game. The Orange improved to 6-0 in games that Dolezaj scores in double figures and will play third-seeded Michigan State on Sunday.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Marek was unbelievable tonight,” Boeheim said postgame. “The only reason we were in the game was the way he played early. He made some really hard shots … you can’t play better than that as a freshman.” Published on March 17, 2018 at 2:43 am Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langercenter_img The games first points were scored when Dolezaj made a wide-open layup under the basket off an out-of-bounds play. Later on, he took a short floater, got his rebound after missing it and then put up another floater. He knocked down his second-ever 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring and hit a running floater in the second half off the wrong foot.Orange fans in attendance started yelling “get Dolezaj the ball” even when Tyus Battle, the team’s leading scorer, was bringing it up.Dolezaj realized after the BC game that he needed to change the way he plays. Fellow forward Oshae Brissett came up to him and told him that he needed to shoot the ball more.“‘We need you,’” Brissett told Dolezaj. “‘You’re a star on this team, you can’t go a game without shooting. That’s just unacceptable. Coach starts you because he trusts you, so then you’ve got to go out there and do something.’”For so long, Dolezaj had been content playing the role of the glue guy. The forward who found the open spots in the defense and made the right pass. The one who hustled on defense and kept balls alive.It wasn’t sustainable. Teams stopped guarding him completely, throwing extra defenders at Battle, Frank Howard or Brissett, knowing that Dolezaj wouldn’t shoot.So Dolezaj became more aggressive, starting with the Clemson game. In the last regular season game he wowed the crowd with spin moves and a soft touch that had been hidden all year.Still, teams didn’t seem to pay attention. They kept devoting attention to the Orange’s big three. So Dolezaj kept scoring, notching a career-high 20 points in an ACC win over Wake Forest in the process. His per-game points average at the end of the regular season was 4.2. In four postseason games, he’s averaging 12 points a game.“I felt like I wasn’t really doing (being aggressive),” Dolezaj said. “And I see, when I’m doing that, we can win.”Dolezaj still plays his role. He hustles for rebounds and loose balls. He caused TCU’s point guard Alex Robinson to travel after Dolezaj went for a charge near midcourt on a Horned Frogs fastbreak.Boeheim said that Dolezaj’s offensive game flourishes in the right situations and that Dolezaj “gets into some really good situations,” when he’s left wide open.Leaving him open used to be the way to beat Syracuse. Finally, Dolezaj proved that won’t work.“Trust me, Michigan State will play him,” Moyer said with a chuckle. “They’re gonna learn.” Commentslast_img

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