Zenit rocks ASVEL to boost playoff chances
Zenit St Petersburg strengthened its playoff chances by running away from LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne to an 87-53 home win on Friday. Zenit improved to 18-14 and moved into eighth place, tied on victories with ninth-placed TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (18-15). ASVEL's record fell to 12-20. A 15-2 blast after halftime leading to a 25-6 third-quarter difference was decisive as Zenit amassed a 20-point lead that continued climbing to the finish. Billy Baron and Austin Hollins took turns scorching the nets to lead the winners with 15 points each. Arturas Gudaitis added 13 points while Kevin Pangos combined 10 with 8 assists. Only David Lighty, with 12 points, was able to get into double figures for ASVEL, which was tied at 35-35 a minute before halftime but was outscored 52-18 by Zenit after that.
Mateusz Ponitka hit a triple, Tarik Black a layup and Will Thomas a jumper to give Zenit a 9-2 advantage before Moustapha Fall scored ASVEL's first field goal on a put-back. Charles Kahudi followed with a triple for the visitors, but Pangos and Black connected for a third pick-and-roll layup and Thomas hit a turnaround as the lead climbed to 16-9. Gudaitis and Ismael Bako traded dunks as Zenit led 20-15 after 10 minutes. K.C. Rivers bested Bako's next dunk with a three-point play to open the second quarter. Gudaitis soon scored inside for a 25-17 lead, but ASVEL's Derrick Walton answered with a four-point play. William Howard then copied him with a combination of 2 free throws around a put-back to suddenly tie it up, 25-25. Howard answered free throws by Gudiaitis with a layup at 28-27. Lighty gave ASVEL its first lead with free throws at 28-29, then the scoreboard flipped from one team to the other until Baron nailed his first triple for Zenit at 35-31. Howard and Norris Cole answered, however, for a 35-35 tie. Baron opened the final minute of the second quarter with free throws then converted a triple into a four-point play to boost Zenit in front 41-37 at the half.
Pangos fed Black for a dunk to start the second half and Baron kept it going from deep. When Ponitka scored free throws on an unsportsmanlike foul, Zenit had a double-digit lead at 48-37. Lighty and Pangos traded jumpers before Baron struck again from the arc to make it 53-39. Ponitka's block sent Thomas ahead for a transition triple as Zenit's opening run reached 15-2 and the lead hit 56-39. Pangos blasted a second-chance triple as the difference soared to 61-41. Gudaitis kept it going to a commanding 66-43 advantage after 30 minutes. Alex Poythress stole and finished for a new high lead of 72-47 early in the fourth quarter. By the time Hollins erupted for 2 triples and a dunk in his own personal 8-0 run, the score was 80-49 and Zenit could think ahead with confidence to its remaining chores in the ongoing playoff race.
Among many candidates on Zenit, sharpshooter Billy Baron scored 15 points in less than 5 minutes bridging the second and third quarters to turn a close game decisively in the host’s favor. He finished with that same total in less than 13 minutes played and with just 2 missed shots for a PIR of 14 on the night.
It was 35-35 entering the final minute of the second quarter when Baron hit free throws and converted a four-point play for a 41-37 halftime lead. He came back after the break to hit 2 three-pointers in a 15-2 run to open the third quarter for a 56-39 lead that broke the game open for good.
Hollins shuts the door
If ASVEL had any thoughts of a comeback, Austin Hollins was ready to take the scoring relay from Baron in the fourth quarter. He had a personal 8-0 started by a spectacular save for 13 points in a span of 6 minutes that resulted in the no-doubt-about-it 34-point victory, the biggest in Zenit's two seasons in the EuroLeague.
Zenit's non-stop defense held ASVEL to a club low 2 of 12 three-pointers on the night. Baron and Hollins, with 4 and 3 triples respectively, each made more shots from the arc than ASVEL as a team.
Zenit continues knocking on the playoffs door when it hosts Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in a week's time in Round 34, the last game for most teams, but not for Zenit, which still has a rescheduled Round 6 game left to be played against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens on April 12. ASVEL also plays a rescheduled game from Round 30 on Sunday in Tel Aviv against Maccabi before returning to Russia to close its season against CSKA Moscow next Thursday.
Friday, April 2, 2021