Zenit wins big to stay alive
Zenit St Petersburg will continue fighting to reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs for the first time in club history after handily downing Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv 86-69 at home on Friday. Zenit raised its record to 19-14 to move into the eighth and final playoffs place ahead of Valencia Basket (19-15). Due to a tie-break disadvantage against Valencia, however, Zenit must win again in a rescheduled Round 6 game against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens on Monday or be eliminated. Zenit never trailed against Maccabi, turning a 44-37 halftime lead to 66-48 thanks to a 14-2 run in the third quarter. Austin Hollins led five double-digit Zenit scorers with 15 points. Kevin Pangos added 13 points, Will Thomas and Tarik Black 11 each, and Mateusz Ponitka 10. Zenit's defense took 9 steals and forced 16 turnovers on Maccabi, which got 15 points from Tyler Dorsey and 11 from Chris Jones.
Hollins dunked off a steal by Ponitka and Pangos beat the shot clock from deep as Zenit zoomed ahead 7-2. Hollins and Thomas drilled three-pointers as Elijah Bryant steadied the visitors with 5 points. But Black blocked 2 shots and got to the free throw line to raise the Zenit lead to 19-11. Dorsey and Chris Jones scored off the Maccabi bench, but K.C. Rivers and Alex Poythress matched them as Zenit led 25-15 after 10 minutes. Dragan Bender, Bryant, Dorsey and Othello Hunter dropped the difference to 29-23 early in the second quarter before Billy Baron struck from deep for Zenit. Ponitka restored the hosts' double-digit lead, but Dorsey converted a tough three-point play for Maccabi. Hollins struck again from deep and hit a free throw at 38-27. T.J. Cline and Oz Blayzer added triples as Maccabi got within 5 points, but Dmitry Khvostov made it 44-37 for Zenit at halftime.
Ante Zizic dunked for Maccabi to start the second half, but Hollins responded with consecutive baskets and Pangos added another and fed Black to make it 52-43. Wilbekin steadied the visitors with a triple but Pangos matched him on the shot-clock buzzer at 57-46. Ponitka took over with an assist to Thomas before a steal-and-dunk combo as the difference soared to 66-48 after 30 minutes. Zenit was content to trade scores early in the fourth quarter to stay ahead 77-56 as Pangos fed a no-look pass to Andrey Zubkov and scored a second-chance layup with 6 minutes left, leaving too little time for Maccabi to challenge. Zenit was still alive in the playoffs race and one win away from a historic qualification
Zenit center Tarik Black started against Maccabi, his only former EuroLeague team, and was a major factor all night, especially on defense. His 2 early blocks and a steal set the tone as Zenit jumped to quick and consistent leads. Black finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 24 minutes in the absence of fellow center Arturas Gudaitis. His team-high PIR of 21 was Black's best in eight games since joining Zenit in late January.
It was 52-46 midway through the third quarter when Mateusz Ponitka led a 14-2 charge that pretty much decided the outcome. Ponitka had 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals in that spell, which was punctuated by a triple from Kevin Pangos and a second-chance three-point play by Tarik Black. The run left Zenit in charge 66-48 through three quarters, after which Maccabi did not challenge the lead.
Zenit's Billy Baron has now made three-pointers in 23 consecutive games. That is the EuroLeague's highest current streak and the second-longest ever in a single season. Among four players with 24 consecutive is Maccabi's Scottie Wilbekin, who did so earlier this season. Baron's closest pursuer is his own teammate, Kevin Pangos, who lengthened his three-point streak to 22 games in a row.
Moving up the charts
With his 1 three-pointer in the game, Maccabi's Scottie Wilbekin moved ahead of Trajan Langdon for 14th place all-time in the EuroLeague with a total of 340 shots made from the arc.
Zenit will finish its season on Monday in a rescheduled Round 6 home game against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Zenit will qualify for the playoffs with a victory, but will be eliminated if it loses. Maccabi has finished its EuroLeague season with a ?? record.
Friday, April 9, 2021