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Marek Dolezaj delivered when Syracuse men’s basketball needed him most

The impact went beyond the stat sheet on Sunday

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at West Virginia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is moving on to the Sweet 16 behind the shooting of Buddy Boeheim and a re-energized defensive effort. They are also still dancing thanks to the all-around contributions of senior Marek Dolezaj.

Dolezaj had picked up a late foul at the end of the first half and was called for his fourth foul on a questionable charge after he had released a pass with 15 minutes to go. Syracuse had a nine-point lead at the time but Dolezaj’s departure led to a three straight empty possessions by the Orange. Then Jesse Edwards picked up his fourth foul and Jim Boeheim sent Dolezaj back into the game with 12:48 to play.

“I think the key really was Marek,” Jim Boeheim said. “The game is going to get away with 11 minutes to go, 12 minutes, if he doesn’t play. He had to be in the game. We run our offense through him. He played the whole rest of the game with four fouls. He’s so key for us.”

Over that final stretch Dolezaj not only stayed on the floor he was critical to Syracuse regaining the lead. He had four points, three rebounds and two assists in the final eight minutes including this set-up of Quincy Guerrier.

With Joe Girard struggling in the second half, Syracuse went to a lot of two-man game with Dolezaj and Buddy at the top. In addition to the dish above, Dolezaj had another play where he found Kadary Richmond leading to an open Robert Braswell 3. Marek’s ability to handle the ball (final minute turnover aside) was critical as the Orange held off the Mountaineers comeback. He was also part of a strong defensive effort which held Derek Culver to 7 points and 3 rebounds on 2-9 shooting from the field.

Having Dolezaj with the ball at the top of the key has allowed Syracuse to spread the floor and open up shooters for clean looks. Other players might have accumulated better numbers last night but Syracuse would be on their way home from Indiana if not for the way the Slicin’ Slovak delivered in crunch time and earned his post-game pizza.