Orange move to 7-5 with home win over North Florida

Orange move to 7-5 with home win over North Florida

With a standout performance by Marek Dolezaj and five players hitting double digits in points, Syracuse (7-5, 1-1 ACC) managed to outdo the Ospreys’ (7-7) typically killer marksmanship. Perhaps for the first time this season, the ‘Cuse pushed and prospered in the paint.
Published: December 22, 2019
Syracuse Basketball vs. Oakland - Marek Dolezaj passes the ball back to Buddy Boeheim
Marek Dolezaj, shown here again Oakland earlier this month, was among five Syracuse players scoring double digits against North Florida.

Friction in the First

North Florida led Division I basketball at the start of the game in three-pointers per game with 12.5, and it proved to be a major obstacle for the Orange. In the first half, neither team seemed capable of attaining a convincing lead.

Leading the Ospreys was J.T. Escobar. Syracuse was moving the ball around the court with no serious issues, but they couldn’t shut down Escobar, who sank five of his six threes on the night in the first half. North Florida nailed eight threes in total in the first half, and the Orange’s only hope was to respond in kind with aggressive work under the basket.

Working down low starts and ends with Marek Dolezaj in Syracuse, and tonight was a marquee showing for the Junior. In the first half, he racked up five assists, eight points, three rebounds, and two steals. His efforts in the paint were what allowed the Orange to remain in the game in the first half. Without his ability to press, Syracuse would never have been as open to combat North Florida’s long-range attacks.

After all, despite being down 22-16 halfway through the first, the Ospreys managed to score seven unanswered points to draw things closer. Taking the lead back at 23-22 was a big move for North Florida, but the Orange managed to overcome the setback.

With Dolezaj firing on all cylinders, Elijah Hughes was able to come in with several layups. Three-point shooting from Joe Girard III, Buddy Boeheim, and a rarely seen Robert Braswell kept the Orange alive. A final put-back by Quincy Guerrier cushioned them with a score of 35-33 in their favor as they walked in the locker room at halftime.

Syracuse slips away

Boeheim opened the half with a three, but things remained neck and neck until there were about 12 minutes left in the game. North Florida’s Trip Day got a layup to tie the game at 54. Syracuse responded with an eleven-point run that granted them a lead they held until the final buzzer.

The unanswered points came from an eight-foot shot and a pair of free throws by Dolezaj, a three from Buddy, and a driving field goal from Hughes. Dolezaj’s performance was a lightning rod of activity for the Orange all night. He finished the competition with 17 points (just three shy of his career-best 20 from his freshman year), as well as team-leading stats with eight assists, three steals and seven free throws on seven attempts.

With Dolezaj on fire in the center of the court, it freed the rest of the team to show out. As usual, Hughes led the team with 18 points. He and Dolezaj were joined by three teammates in hitting double digits. Their compatriots were Buddy Boeheim with 16 and Joe Girard with 14, both of whom were four for eleven from three, and a characteristically scrappy Guerrier who put up ten.

The Orange outscored the Ospreys in the paint 30 to 10, and for perhaps the first time this season, Syracuse used their size to dominate an opponent. Small ball was out the window with Dolezaj having a coming-out party all evening. On the other hand, North Florida set a record for three-point attempts for an Orange opponent with 45 shots. If they sank one more, they’d have tied the record for threes made against Syracuse. The current holder of that distinction is the 2018 National Champion Virginia team.

Regardless of the cooking Osprey offense, Syracuse served up a win with a score of 82-70.

Moving forward

The performance down low was a revelation for Syracuse. Hopefully, it’ll be one that inspires some more aggressive play. Small ball has been a struggle for the team, but with an improving Dolezaj, they might be able to overcome their issues. If the defense picks up and prevents more three-pointers than this, they could make a run.

Syracuse will have a brief reprieve for the holidays before taking the court again. On Saturday, December 27th, the Orange will welcome the Niagara University Purple Eagles to the Dome for one last non-conference event n the 2019-2020 campaign.