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Marek Dolezaj makes his first start of the season for Syracuse basketball against Arkansas State

Dolezaj also made his first free throw of the season.

Arkansas State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

For part of the Syracuse Orange cohort looking to see Marek Dolezaj play more minutes, Saturday’s contest was looking to be a good day. After earning a starting job at forward midway through his freshman season, the sophomore Slovak has been coming off the bench in his antepenultimate year as Elijah Hughes starts opposite Oshae Brissett at forward. But on Saturday Dolezaj started his first game of the 2018-19 season for Syracuse — it was his first ever start at center for the Orange.

While he played just 16 total minutes, Dolezaj registered 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. Jim Boeheim has said that for Syracuse to reach its potential this season, Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe are going to have to play well in the center spot. But on Saturday, Boeheim was hoping the offense would take a step forward with Dolezaj manning the middle.

“Well ideally we get better movement, better ball movement, a little better offense. But that didn’t really happen,” Boeheim said of Dolezaj at center.

Dolezaj of course earned the nod at center over Chukwu, the latter of the two ironically played one of his better games of the season after coming off the pine. Chukwu grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds with six coming on the offensive end. By having him come off the bench, was Boeheim trying to send the senior center a message?

“No. I mean he wasn’t playing good and we want to win. So I wanted to try to win the game. It didn’t really work as well as I would have liked in terms of how we played in the beginning. But Marek is really a forward. It’s tough in the center position. It’s tough in there, tough for him in there,” Boeheim said.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Following the game, Dolezaj said he doesn’t mind whether he starts or comes off the bench. He says that he just focuses on playing hard regardless of whether he starts or which position he plays. He admits, however, that playing center is a bit unfamiliar to him.

“It is different to play center. I never played it in my life and it’s a little bit different. I know it looks like the same but it’s a little different and it’s hard,” Dolezaj said.

Dolezaj has struggled with burly offensive players while in the middle of the zone. Guys like Nick Perkins of Buffalo have been able to move Dolezaj around, but the sophomore presents a unique matchup on the court who’s capable of knocking down shots from both the three and mid-range. He’s shown an ability to hit teammates cutting backdoor from the wing and top of the key, too.

“He’ll do some things that will help us,” Boeheim said of having Dolezaj at five on the offensive end. “But today it really, the whole offense was not, it wasn’t him. It was the whole offense wasn’t good in the first half.”

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