SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — When the game was on the line, Marek Dolezaj stood tall for Syracuse.
The slender 6-foot-10 native of Slovakia had 17 points and seven rebounds, Buddy Boeheim added 21 points, and the Orange held off Pittsburgh 69-61 on Saturday.
The Orange won despite off nights for two of their leading scorers.
“I just need to try to go to the basket, make a shot, help the team,” Dolezaj said.
Syracuse had surged at the start and led by as many as 20 points, but after Ryan Murphy’s 3-pointer from the top of the key moved Pittsburgh within 59-54 with 3:31 remaining in the game, Dolezaj stood tall. He hit a floater in the lane, put back a miss by Elijah Hughes, blocked a lob attempt, fed Hughes for a fast-break dunk, and sank two free throws in the final seconds to frustrate the Panthers.
“I tell him every single day in practice and in games that he needs to be aggressive,” Hughes said of Dolezaj. “If he is, we’re a different team. Our leading scorers, they have room to have off nights.”
“He’s really a key player for us to be successful,” added Orange coach Jim Boeheim. “It’s good to have a versatile guy there. He’s really a versatile player, plays center, plays forward, handles the ball, takes it out. He’s a a huge key to what we do.”
Syracuse (13-7, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won five straight as it tries to rebound from a lackluster start to the season and build a resume for postseason consideration. That the Orange won when leading scorer Hughes and freshman point guard Joe Girard struggled to score was an important sign.
Hughes, who entered the game leading the ACC in scoring and was on a remarkable streak, matched his season low with 10 points and Girard finished with seven as the two combined to shoot 6 of 21, 1 for 11 from behind the arc.
Pittsburgh (13-7, 4-5) was coming off home wins over North Carolina and Boston College but now has lost six straight to the Orange.
“In the second half we weren’t on our heels. I thought we did a better job, but we had dug ourselves a little bit too deep of a hole to get out of,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “We put ourselves in position … where it’s a three-point game a couple of times, but we weren’t able to close it out.”
Quincy Guerrier had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Orange.
Justin Champagnie led Pitt with 14 points and Terrell Brown had 11. Leading scorer Trey McGowens had seven points.
A layup by Champagnie closed the gap to 56-47 with 6:02 left as the Panthers outscored Syracuse 14-3 in a five-minute surge. A foul-line jumper by Brown pulled Pitt within 59-56 with 2:43 left, but Hughes converted a drive through the lane and Dolezaj’s putback of a miss by Hughes with 1:43 helped keep the Panthers at bay.
“We did a lot of good things, and with Joe and Elijah being on their game, we survived those two having a bad game, which is a good thing for this team,” coach Boeheim said.
Pitt missed 10 of its first 11 shots as the Syracuse defense swarmed, blocking five shots, three by Hughes. The Orange, who converted three three-point plays in the first half, used a 15-2 run to create some separation. Three-point plays by Dolezaj and Guerrier in less than a minute staked the Orange to a 20-7 lead just past the midpoint of the period and a putback by Bourama Sidibe boosted the margin to 30-10 with 4:59 left.
The Panthers, who were 6-of-26 shooting (23.1%) responded with an 11-0 spurt to get back in it. Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson each hit 3-pointers to key the run and two free throws by Toney cut the margin to single digits in the final minute before Girard hit a layup for the Orange to give them a 32-21 halftime lead despite zero points from Hughes, who missed all five of his shots.
Boeheim scored 18 points in the first half, going 6 of 11 from the floor, including three 3-pointers. He also had 18 straight points in the first half in a win at Virginia Tech a week ago.
“When you see a couple go down, especially trying to start off inside in the lane, the court just opens up for you,” Buddy said. “You want to make plays, you want to attack, you want to try to get your jumper going. Elijah and Joe were finding me and I was able to knock some down and get in a rhythm. When that happens, you just want the ball.”
“We were fortunate Buddy got it going early to give us the lead,” coach Boeheim said. “That enabled us to help us kind of hang in there.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers entered the game allowing 61.7 points per game, the second-best figure in the ACC, and are 2-3 on the road, matching their win total on the road in the three previous seasons combined. Pitt still has a chance to boost its resume with road games against Duke and Florida State and home contests against Virginia and Syracuse, but it’s an uphill climb.
Syracuse: The Orange have an ace in Hughes, whose steady contributions have been as impressive as it gets. Hughes entered the game averaging 19.7 and his season low was 10 points against Iowa in December. In every other game he had scored at least 14 points and in the previous eight his totals were: 18, 19, 19, 18, 18, 19, 17, 26. He also contributed 34 assists and 48 rebounds in those games and has 20 steals and 18 blocks on the season.
Pittsburgh: Panthers play at No. 8 Duke on Tuesday night.
Syracuse: Orange play at Clemson on Tuesday night.
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