Zenit holds on to win in Tel Aviv
Zenit St Petersburg put forward another strong defensive effort to defeat Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv 72-78 on Tuesday night at Menora Mivtachim Arena. Zenit improved to 7-2 on the road and 10-5 on the season. The winners took their first lead late in the second quarter and then surged ahead to lead by as many as 16 in the third. Maccabi rallied to get within 3 with a minute to go, but Zenit made its free throws to seal the victory. Alex Poythress came through with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, Mateusz Ponitka tallied 14 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and Kevin Pangos added 11 points and 6 assists for the winners. Scottie Wilbekin paced Maccabi in defeat with 18 points, Tyler Dorsey scored 13 and Ante Zizic and Elijah Bryant contributed 10 each as Maccabi fell to 7-10 and the midway points of the season, including 4-4 at home.
Maccabi got out to an excellent start with back-to-back threes by Wilbekin and Yovel Zoosman giving the hosts an 8-1 lead. Zenit recovered with Will Thomas and Pangos connecting from deep to trim the gap to 10-9. Wilbekin and Pangos continued to lead their respective offenses with the hosts maintaining a slim lead. Othello Hunter exited the game with an eye injury and would not return. After a monster alley-oop slam by Poythress got Zenit within 2, Chris Jones beat the first-quarter buzzer with a jumper to make it 22-18. Poythress and Andrey Zubkov scored early in the second quarter as Zenit tied it twice. Dorsey heated up for the hosts, but Zenit kept charging and a reverse layup by Ponitka gave the visitors their first lead, 31-32, with 4 minutes left in the half. Austin Hollins extended the margin to 4 before free throws by Zizic made it 35-37 at the break.
Arturas Gudaitis scored the first 2 baskets of the second half before Hollins buried a three-pointer to cap a 0-7 run, which prompted a Maccabi timeout. A three-pointer by Wilbekin was not enough to change the momentum as Thomas scored to give Zenit a double-digit lead, 38-48. Pangos twice drew offensive fouls from Bryant and Poythress scored inside to extend the margin to 13 and a slam-plus-foul by Poythress made it 46-62. John DiBartolomeo responded with a four-point play and Omri Casspi trimmed the deficit to 52-62 through three quarters. A pair of threes by Dorsey and a steal and layup by Wilbekin got Maccabi within 60-66. Zenit did not panic and the lead was back to double figures on a Ponitka floater with 6 minutes to play. Maccabi made another push with a three by DiBartolomeo and Wilbekin free throws to make it 67-73 with 3 minutes to play. A floater by Wilbekin got the hosts within 4 with 2 minutes remaining and a three-point play by Jones made it 72-75 with 1:05 on the clock. A free throw by Ponitka with 40 seconds remaining gave Zenit a two-possession lead. Wilbekin missed his next two shots and Thomas iced the game with free throws with 13 seconds left.
Not only did Mateusz Ponitka stuff the stat sheet with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, but the do-it-all swingman seemed to be involved in big plays all night. Ponitka's first basket of the game gave Zenit its first lead. He restored a double-digit lead in the fourth when Maccabi made its first rally. And Ponitka added 2 free throws in the final 2 minutes to help secure the outcome.
Kevin Pangos made two big plays in the third quarter that may go unnoticed in the box score, but were critical to keeping his team's momentum at the right time. In less than a minute of game time, Pangos planted his feet in front of Maccabi guard Elijah Bryant to draw offensive fouls. Those plays double as Maccabi turnovers and put both Bryant and Maccabi under pressure as Zenit maintained a comfortable lead.
The box score paints a clear picture of what Zenit did well: the visitors outrebounded Maccabi 26-36, held the hosts to just 50% shooting on two-pointers while making 63.9% and their 19 assists were 6 more than the hosts had.
Both teams will be on the road next week to start 2021. Maccabi visits ALBA Berlin on Thursday, January 7. Zenit heads to Greece to face Panathinaikos OPAP Athens the same evening.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020