by Josh Adams
Brooklyn- As successful as the Syracuse basketball program has been under Jim Boeheim, they’re still milestones that have never been reached and tonight the Orange notched a big one. Syracuse got their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament win after joining the conference in 2013. Prior to Tuesday’s victory over Wake, the Orange have gone 0-3 in the tournament, getting bounced before they even settle into their hotel. It was a different story tonight at the Barclays Center as the Orange quickly established a lead over the Demon Deacons and never let them get it back. Behind freshman Marek Dolezaj’s career high 20 points, Syracuse advanced to play North Carolina on Wednesday night.
It’s no secret how much the Syracuse 2-3 zone really phases some teams and it quickly turned Wake’s offense inept by causing several turnovers in the early going as the Orangemen built a 20-4 lead early. Tyus Battle was the go-to guy for Syracuse, scoring nine quick points for the Orange as Wake Forest looked outgunned early in front of a very pro-Syracuse crowd in Brooklyn. To the Demon Deacons credit, they woke up out of their slump at about the same time Syracuse’s offense went ice cold and not scoring for 3:30 allowing Wake Forest to come within four of the lead as the half came to a close. A game that looked like a cakewalk for the Orange at the beginning had the potential of a ACC slugfest as both teams walked into the locker room at halftime.
The cream usually rises to the top in conference tournaments and Syracuse quickly asserted themselves as the superior team from the start of the second half. Battle continued to dominate the Demon Deacons and on the other side of the ball, Paschal Chukwu was an interior force for Syracuse. He made a habit of swatting away multiple Demon Deacon layup attempts.
Just like in the first half, the Orangemen allowed Wake to get back into the game by becoming lethargic on offense. Behind the play of Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown, the Demon Deacons reduced the lead from 17 to 8 with under three minutes left to play. The deficit proved to be to big for the Demon Deacons to overcome as Syracuse’s Dolezaj hit Chukwu with an alley-oop to put the game out of reach. The horn sounded for the final time this season for Wake Forest (11-20) as Syracuse lives to take on North Carolina on Thursday night in a battle of two hall-of-fame coaches in Boeheim and Roy Williams.
As Syracuse is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, neither Boeheim or Battle seemed overly concerned about having to win tomorrow in order for the committee to select them on Sunday.
“The committee is just going to make whatever decision they make.”, said Boeheim after the game, “I think we have a good basketball team, I think we can compete and have proven that we can play with anybody.”
Battle told the press after the game concerning their tournament chances “We just play. We focus on the circle which is our team and we just go out there and play.”
It was a very disappointing season for Wake and Coach Danny Manning. At 11-20 for the season, the Demon Deacons were competitive in ACC Conference play but just couldn’t finish ballgames. Crawford led the Deacs with 22 points tonight. As a former All-Star forward, Manning spoke of the lack of depth in his frontcourt after the game. “Our bigs have to to have more of a presence on the glass.”, said Manning.
A down year for Wake isn’t ideal for the conference. The Deacs have produced stars like Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. They could’ve used both of them tonight. As for Syracuse, they are in uncharted waters as they go for win #2 in the ACC Tournament. They played UNC close in the Carrier Dome last month before losing. A win tomorrow and the Orange can all-but punch their ticket into the NCAA Tournament. But tonight, the path started with their elusive first ACC Tournament win fittingly in New York.
– Boston College advanced with a win over Georgia Tech on Tuesday afternoon. The Eagles will play NC State on Wednesday.
– Notre Dame got an unexpected challenge from Pitt before putting the game away late in the second half. Bonzie Colson returned from a foot injury to help the Irish win and get coach Mike Brey his 500th career victory. Notre Dame plays Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
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