Dolezaj sat at the elbow with all the wing players that surrounded him guarding the three-point line. Jim Boeheim decided to do something he thought was blasphemy weeks earlier: enter a game with Marek Dolezaj playing center for the Syracuse Orange.
The change provided some early returns, but the difference in a 82-52 blowout win became the player pulled from the starting lineup. Paschal Chukwu enforced his will, clearing out the interior for six offensive rebounds to set up second-chance baskets and bounce back games from Oshae Brissett — 5-for-10, 15 points — and Elijah Hughes — 6-for-12, 17 points.
An early layup by Dolezaj on the offensive end got negated by Grantham Gillard, floating a ball over Dolezaj’s head into the cup the other way to put the Red Wolves up 8-4. Early free throws that the Orange garnered dipped into an off layup attempt by Hughes, Tyus Battle dribbling out of bounds on the baseline and an early deficit.
Boeheim toyed with the deeper level of his bench. Bourama Sidibe entered before Chukwu, and Dolezaj played point from the center spot, finding Hughes on the cut to dunk down 10-6. Hughes himself got yanked in favor of Buddy Boeheim for nearly turning it over to Ty Cockfield on an aimless pass back to Frank Howard.
Sidibe racked up three points with a foul, spinning into a right hook shot in the paint, but JJ Matthews reached over Hughes for an offensive rebound to pace the Red Wolves lead onward. Arkansas State started the game 61.5 percent from the field through the first 10 minutes.
Boeheim turned to Chukwu at the 10:17 mark to man the press. Cockfield immediately shattered it into pieces, finding Gillard for an easy layup across the floor and a nine-point lead. Chukwu crashed the offensive boards, grabbing two over the next sequence and hitting a pair of free throws. Between that and two threes from Hughes in the corner and off a dropped ball from Boeheim, the Orange broke the lead down to 31-25
Chukwu extended his stretch off the bench to five rebounds in under seven minutes. His defensive presence led to a 1-for-5 lull for AK State, while another offensive board put the ball in Battle’s hands for two around his screen. After an offensive rebound by Hughes, Syracuse regained the lead at 35-33.
But Cockfield continued to torture Boeheim and the top of the Orange 2-3 zone, leaning back with multiple bodies in his face to drill three threes. Hughes and Battle regained the lead before the half, up 38-36, with 3-for-4 shooting at the foul line. Syracuse scored 27 of their points there.
The tight game opened up behind Brissett, sealing up the interior defensively and continuing a flow of ball movement. While without a three since Old Dominion, he set himself up for an early two from the elbow and Hughes ran the other way off a strong rebound from Chukwu in traffic for a 40-33 lead.
Brissett moved to the interior, finishing a layup and three-point play before setting himself on the baseline in position to feed Hughes for two on a cut up the middle. Chukwu continued to infuriate AK State’s interior, grabbing his fifth offensive rebound following a three-point miss by Howard and feeding Brissett for two more on a jumper to go ahead 50-39.
Chukwu disturbed the Red Wolves offense too, cutting off Cockfield for a block at the elbow and sending a shot by Matthews on the baseline off. AK State only hit two shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half on 13 attempts with six turnovers. Chuwku blocked two shots and grabbed 13 rebounds.
The run got worse for AK State as the Orange scorched toward a 20-point advantage the same way Battle blew by the defense for a layup and alley-oop slam. Brissett even broke through his 26.5 percent swoon from three to hit one outside on a feed from Hughes as part of a 9-0 run to go ahead 66-47. Then young Boeheim joined the party with his first three since the Northeastern game.
Syracuse’s second half explosion held the Red Wolves to only 13 points and allowed Robert Braswell to throw down a dunk in transition with a season-high six points. The Orange now move on to play 4-8 St. Bonaventure, a team that beat them 60-57 last season. The game tips off at the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 2 p.m. EST.