NEW YORK — Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj paused briefly when asked the question.
When was the last time he dunked the ball three times in a game?
“In Europe,” Dolezaj said after an extra second, chuckling to himself.
Dolezaj had plenty to smile about after pouring in a career-high 20 points as Syracuse won its first ACC Tournament game in school history, defeating Wake Forest 73-64.
The impetus came early in the second half, when Dolezaj took a feed from Paschal Chukwu and slammed it through, absorbing contact from Olivier Sarr.
The 6-foot-9 forward from Slovakia drew a roar from the pro-Syracuse crowd, and calmly tacked on the free throw.
On SU’s ensuing possession, Wake Forest switched to a full-court press and Dolezaj received a pass at midcourt with a clear path to the lane.
Earlier in the season, Dolezaj may have pulled back, settling the Orange into its halfcourt set. As recently as last Wednesday, Dolezaj took zero shots in SU’s humiliating 85-70 loss to Boston College.
Six other times this season, Dolezaj has gone scoreless.
But that was not the case on Tuesday.
Instead, Dolezaj put his head down, took three hard dribbles to the rim and was fouled by Doral Moore going up for a dunk.
“I started being more aggressive,” Dolezaj said. “And [my teammates] are trying to pass me the ball.”
Dolezaj would throw down two more slams and stay aggressive the rest of the night, earning five trips to the line, where he went 8-10. He also added four rebounds, two blocks and an assist, which turned into the exclamation point on the night.
After Wake Forest had whittled away an 18-point lead down to six points, Dolezaj again found himself in transition and threw a perfect lob to Chukwu, who threw down his second consecutive alley-oop to give the Orange an insurmountable 66-58 lead with 1:21 left.
“He was aggressive,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He made some good passes. But he was very, very good today.”
Boeheim wasn’t the only one to praise Dolezaj.
“He’s a talented kid, so we just want to put him in spots where he can be productive,” guard Frank Howard said. “They gave him some open shots in the middle of the night, and he was being aggressive and made a lot of plays.”
Those plays allowed Syracuse to see another day in the ACC Tournament. It will play North Carolina on Wednesday evening at 9 p.m. with an at-large NCAA bid in the balance.
Dolezaj, for his part, knows what he needs to do.
“I’m trying to improve every day,” he said. “I hope the next time, I’ll [do] better.”