The legend of Marek Dolezaj and pizza got started a little over a week ago at Barclays Center, when he topped off a 20-point effort vs. Wake Forest by eating an entire pie after the game.
He continued the pizza-fueled rampage on Friday night in Detroit, at Little Caesars Arena (of course). The Syracuse Orange defeated the TCU Horned Frogs 57-52, behind 17 points from Dolezaj on 8-of-13 shooting. The freshman fouled out with plenty of time left in the second half. However, his teammates (especially Oshae Brissett) were able to take over on both ends and close out the win.
It was ugly. What hasn’t been this season?
But what you saw from Dolezaj in this game, like his 20-point effort against Wake Forest, was how he can completely alter the course and tenor of a game. It’s never pretty. And he shouldn’t necessarily be Syracuse’s leading scorer in any win. Yet, his mid-range ability and clean-up work on the boards was enough to get the defense looking elsewhere and potentially opening up opportunities for Brissett, Tyus Battle and Frank Howard.
In part, Dolezaj’s efforts were a necessity. With SU’s guards a combined 6-of-23 with 14 points (their second straight game struggling shooting the basketball), he was looked to quickly to pick up the slack. Had this been mid-season, Syracuse could’ve succumbed to the pressure. With the Wake Forest game in the rearview, he (and his teammates) had the confidence to rely on him like never before.
That clutch three as the shot clock ran out in the first half was all the evidence you needed. Dole can take over a game if forced to. Eventually, that could evolve into games we “need” him to.
During the early minutes of the contest, I remarked that he’s going to evolve into the “most Duke” player Syracuse has ever had. You know exactly the type of contributor I’m talking about. Not clutch or dominant, but does every little thing you ask of him and quietly piles up double-doubles. The Slovakian is a little light right now to add too much of a post game to his repertoire (outside of clean-up duty). But you see the stage being set. Dolezaj is going to be a monster once he comes into his own and maybe adds 20-30 pounds.
These sorts of projects are where Boeheim has truly thrived as a coach.
SU’s best teams have had the blue-chip recruits, and the future pros, sure. But the real advantages have been found in the margins. That’s what these post-sanctions seasons have taught him to explore more of, out of necessity. Dolezaj, a late addition to the 2017 class, wouldn’t have played much in most seasons. Instead, with a short bench, he’s a lethal mid-range shooter and a catalyst for this team on both ends of the floor.
Maybe it’s the pizza. Maybe it’s Dolezaj just finding his role within this team, as needed. Either way, we should be excited about the rest of the tournament for him, however long it lasts. And we should be even more thrilled about his bright future for the Orange.