NEW YORK (AP) — Freshman forward Marek Dolezaj scored a career-high 20 points and Syracuse won an Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament game for the first time, beating Wake Forest 73-64 on Tuesday night.
Tyus Battle had 18 points and Paschal Chukwu added 14 points and nine rebounds as all five starters scored in double figures for the 11th-seeded Orange (20-12), hoping an impressive performance in Brooklyn will get them off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse had plenty of New York City success in the Big East Tournament over the years but had been 0-3 in ACC postseason play since changing conferences. Next up, the Orange play Wednesday night against 12th-ranked and sixth-seeded North Carolina, the defending national champion.
Bryant Crawford scored 22 points for No. 14 seed Wake Forest (11-20), which lost its final three games of the season and seven of its last nine. Normally dangerous from long range, the Demon Deacons finished 6 for 29 (20.7 percent) on 3-pointers.
Playing in its home state, Syracuse had the benefit of partisan support on a neutral court, with many of the chanting fans in a crowd of 10,612 decked out in orange.
Frank Howard had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists for Syracuse, which was coming off a 55-52 win Saturday at home against then-No. 18 Clemson that snapped a three-game skid. Oshae Brissett added 10 points, on 2-of-11 shooting, and nine rebounds.
Needing a win and knowing he has a thin roster, Orange coach Jim Boeheim didn’t make a second-half substitution until Battle fouled out with 32.8 seconds to go.
Wake Forest was down 19 with under eight minutes remaining but shaved the deficit to six on two free throws by Brandon Childress with 1:24 left. Dolezaj tossed an alley-oop to the 7-foot-2 Chukwu for his second consecutive dunk and his blocked shot at the other end led to two foul shots by Brissett that made it 68-58 with 1:04 remaining.
Dolezaj scored Syracuse’s first five points after halftime and a 3 by Howard started an 11-0 run that gave the Orange their biggest lead, 56-37, on Chukwu’s layup off a feed from Battle with 8:12 remaining.
Wake Forest went scoreless for 6:26 and never fully recovered.
Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone defense confounded the Demon Deacons early on. They committed six turnovers in the first 8:41 and failed to score for nearly five minutes as Battle keyed an 11-0 spurt with seven points to give the Orange a 20-4 advantage less than nine minutes in.
But the Demon Deacons found their footing for a while behind Crawford and 7-foot-1 Doral Moore. The team missed its first seven 3-point attempts before Mitchell Wilbekin connected on a long one to cap a 9-0 surge that trimmed it to 26-22 with 4:19 remaining in the first half.
Despite going 2 of 11 from 3-point range, Syracuse headed into halftime leading 30-24 behind 12 points from Battle.
Wake Forest, which ranked third in the ACC in 3-point shooting at 38.2 percent, was 1 for 13 from beyond the arc in the first half and went to the free-throw line only once.
Wake Forest: Dropped to 1-7 all-time against Syracuse. It was the first postseason meeting between the schools.
Syracuse: Dolezaj, from Slovakia, set his previous career best with 12 points against Boston College on Jan. 24.
Wake Forest: Returns three starters next season, including Crawford and Moore, and all its key reserves without losing a player who averaged more than 8.8 points per game.
Syracuse: Face North Carolina in the second round on Wednesday. The Orange lost 78-74 at home to then-No. 10 North Carolina on Feb. 21.
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