Jim Boeheim wanted Marek Dolezaj to ‘make plays,’ now he’s emerging at the right time for SU

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on December 26, 2019 at 7:42 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @MikeJMcCleary Jim Boeheim had begged Marek Dolezaj for weeks to do the opposite, but with just over 13 minutes left in the second half against North Florida, Dolezaj held the ball at the free-throw line with his back to the basket. Syracuse, meeting its perimeter-oriented match in the Ospreys, looked to the 3-point line often to counteract quick bursts of outside shooting and a surprising inability to create against one of the country’s worst interior defenses.No one was near him. Dolezaj faked a pass left. Then right. The shot clock dwindled and Buddy Boeheim jumped and hollered. He wanted Dolezaj to turn around, take it himself. When Dolezaj turned, he panicked, tossed to a cutting Elijah Hughes and — if not for a foul call — nearly threw the play away.Throughout a tumultuous season, the Orange (7-5, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) have seen ups and downs in Dolezaj’s aggressiveness. His early-season pass-first tendencies opened up the floor and created high-low movement, but it also led Boeheim to ask for more.“(Elijah Hughes) and Marek need to make plays for us to be successful,” Boeheim said after the Orange’s second loss in Brooklyn to Penn State on Nov. 29, grouping a then-quiet producer in Dolezaj with the Orange’s best player.Now, a 12-point scoring average over his last six games has Dolezaj developing as a legitimate off-the-dribble threat and a scorer inside for Syracuse. His 17-point, 8-assist, 5-rebound performance is the most recent and potent example of the all-around contributor he could be. While the Orange sunk nine spots further to No. 84 in the latest NET rankings, Dolezaj is emerging at the right time for a team desperate for production and about to enter their conference schedule.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“They’re leaving me open,” Dolezaj said on Dec. 18. “I’m trying to move, get to those open spots, drive to the basket.”After the Orange’s 85-64 loss to Penn State, Jim Boeheim declared his team would take more time than he previously thought. In the preseason, SU’s youth was apparent with a freshman point guard, but there were exceptions. The trio of Hughes, Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe, while limited in their court time for Syracuse, provided a veteran presence and predictable output.But as Hughes and Sidibe trended into polar opposite directions — Hughes among the ACC’s top players and Sidibe struggling to stay on the court — Dolezaj landed somewhere in between. His passing, quick drives and ball handling skills complemented SU guards and provided optimism. But in two games at the Barclays Center, Dolezaj passed out of open looks on the block and at the elbow.“Nobody ever told him not to shoot,” Boeheim said on Nov. 29. “When guys don’t take shots, it’s generally because they don’t think they can make them.”But Boeheim harped on the same point repeatedly: Dolezaj had shown he could score in the past. Though his outside jumper was always an anomaly, Dolezaj’s scoring acumen has emerged in big moments for SU. During the first round of an eventual 2018-Sweet 16 run – his freshman season – Dolezaj erupted for 17 points to lead the Orange over TCU after a 20-point game during the ACC Tournament. In his sophomore year, as nothing more than the fifth or sixth option in SU’s offense he matched a season-high 10 points on three different occasions.This season, the Orange attempted to optimize his play in a variety of ways through post-ups, cuts from the free-throw line and an infrequent pick-and-roll game. Dolezaj spent the first five weeks of summer focusing on gaining weight, leading to an additional 10-to-12 pounds he said, in part, to build toward a bigger role. But the 6-foot-10 forward said he didn’t feel heavier, just stronger. His wiry, quick movement remained, and before SU made its trip to Brooklyn, Dolezaj said he realized defenders still couldn’t keep up.“I really need to score more,” Dolezaj said. “Look at the basket. Drive to the basket. Make the plays for my teammates, for myself.”Against Oklahoma State, Dolezaj drove early. He converted on layups, and was fouled five times to earn 10 free throws. When defenders collapsed, Dolezaj passed out to Hughes and others on the wing. Off rebounds, he shot up court with the ball in his hands and made plays in transition — a part of the game SU has struggled with this year.His newfound success with the drive led to a gradual rise in his shot attempts over the next five games, and an uptick in production as well. As Buddy found when his plea convinced Dolezaj to look toward the rim against North Florida, all Dolezaj needed was a nudge.“I need to focus more on driving to the basket,” Dolezaj said, “and that’s what I’m going to do.” Commentslast_img

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