With 17:37 left in the first half, Frank Howard surveyed the floor and spotted Marek Dolezaj wide open at the top of the key.
Perhaps last season, Howard would’ve kept the ball in his pocket. After all, Dolezaj shot just 22.2 percent from downtown in his freshman campaign.
But Howard showed no hesitation, slinging a pass to Dolezaj who rose up immediately and knocked down a 3-pointer. That shot was a sign of things to come in what ended up being a 61-53 win over Syracuse over Clemson on Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome.
“We really trust Marek to go offensively, shoot the ball and make plays, [or] drive the ball,” senior guard Tyus Battle said. “[He’s a] high IQ player.”
That IQ was apparent, as Dolezaj logged his best game of the season.
The sophomore forward finished with 10 points on 3-5 shooting (including two 3s), four rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. He’s now shooting 50 percent (6 of 12) from downtown for the year.
Dolezaj’s second 3 came with 15:27 in the second half, part of a 7-0 run that put the Orange up by 13. Both 3s were met with roars from the crowd.
Though he’s quickly become a fan favorite, Dolezaj barely notices this adulation.
“I’m more focusing on my game, and trying to do my best, always 100 percent,” Dolezaj said. “I think the people see that.”
Syracuse’s offense is far more fluid now that Dolezaj has joined the starting lineup. Syracuse assisted on 12 of its 20 field goals, highlighted by a beautiful assist from Dolezaj to Oshae Brissett with just under nine minutes to go.
After a missed shot attempt by Buddy Boeheim was grabbed by Clemson’s Elijah Thomas, Dolezaj stole the ball from Marcquise Reed, igniting SU’s fast break.
Instead of taking the layup, Dolezaj fired a backdoor pass to Brissett at the baseline who streamed to the basket for a monster dunk.
“If you’re open, he’s going to give it to you,” Battle said. “He’s always making plays like that, back screens, little things that people don’t really see.”
People may not see that, but they do see the wins.
Since Dolezaj joined the starting lineup in place of a mostly ineffective Paschal Chukwu (who didn’t play against Clemson), the Orange is a perfect 4-0. During that stretch, Dolezaj is averaging 5.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks.
“He’s so versatile,” Howard said. “He can do a lot of things and he can score the ball, pass the ball, and defend as well. We just have to use him the right way […] He’s a great player, you know, one of those x-factor guys.”