Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Syracuse outlasts Wake Forest to earn battle with UNC

Marek Dolezaj led Syracuse with 20 points as Orange defeated Wake Forest for first ACC Tournament win. (Photo by Kevin Larkin/Atlantic Coast Conference, used with official permission)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

BROOKLYN -- Syracuse is moving on in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament for the first time.

The Orange defeated Wake Forest at Barclays Center Tuesday, 73-64, and advances to the second round to face North Carolina Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m.

Marek Dolezaj led Syracuse (20-12) with 20 points on a superb 6-for-7 from the field, with four rebounds. Tyus Battle had 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field, including 2-for-5 on three-pointers, with six rebounds and three assists. Paschal Chukwu had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and nearly reached a double-double as he had nine rebounds. Oshae Brissett had 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Orange came out firing, as they led 9-2 in the first few minutes. That lead built up to 20-4 on a Chukwu layup at the 11:44 mark of the first half. Wake Forest tightened up their defense and eventually pulled within four points on a Mitchell Wilbekin three-pointer, and went to halftime trailing by just six, as Syracuse took a 30-24 lead into the locker room. The advantage would return to double digits in the second half, as a Battle three with 16:48 to play put the Orange ahead 41-29, and eventually reached 19 points when Chukwu's layup made the score 56-37 with 8:12 to play.

The Demon Deacons (11-20) put a scare into Syracuse at the end, as a Brandon Childress three-point play cut it to six with 1:58 left, but it was as close as they would get as Dolezaj sealed the outcome with a dunk in the final minute.

"At the start of the game in the zone in the first half, we had a lot of good looks and just couldn't make anything," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "I think the second half, we attacked the zone better. I thought Frank (Howard) did a great job, Marek was tremendous getting into the open spots. He has been looking to score better over the last part of the year."

"But I thought our defense really was the difference. They're a very, very good offensive team, and I thought we got them off their spot. They made 14 threes in Syracuse the last time we played, and I thought we did a much better job guarding them on the three-point line. It was a really good win. I think Wake Forest is a really good offensive basketball team."

Boeheim said of Dolezaj getting the ball at half court with a minute and a half left with Syracuse up six points, and attacking the rim against Wake Forest's press, "You know, you get in that two-on-one situation, I think you've got to attack it. We had taken the clock down pretty well. You know, with that lead, and you hold the ball and you don't turn it over, it's going to get closer, but you're going to win the game. If he hadn't gone to the basket, they would have had to probably foul. So we had enough margin in that situation."

"We tried to use the clock, but we still wanted to be able to score, and we've been very good at that this year when we've had the beat. We've been able to get by people and make plays, either the lob to Paschal or finish the play. But you want to shorten the game as much as you can when you have that kind of lead. I thought they did a good job in their pressure, but we had just -- we had enough cushion."

Howard said of how he's seen Dolezaj improving aggressively as he tries to get more baskets around the rim, "He's a talented kid, so we just want to put him in spots where he can be productive. They gave him some open shots in the middle of the night, and he was being aggressive and made a lot of plays. On the fast break, he has a high enough IQ to make the right plays, so we trust him and just got to put him in the right spots."

Battle said of Dolezaj, "I think Coach Red (assistant coach Adrian Autry) has done a great job improving his game as the season has gone on. He's developed a jump shot. He's always made pretty good decisions in the middle. He's just been more aggressive in making the right play as the season went on."

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