By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The defending Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion, Anadolu Efes, was forced to 2-6, early in the 2021-22 Regular Season. Zenit Saint Petersburg conquered the Round 8 fixture, 90-79, on Friday evening.
With Dmitry Kulagin unavailable and Shabazz Napier still sidelined, Xavi Pascual’s players remained focused despite the shifting ball-handling roles. Conner Frankamp dropped a game-high 18 points behind 7/10 field goals. Billy Baron paired his ten points with a game-high five assists. Denis Zakharov after playing only three minutes in the first seven rounds chipped in six points during the second period.
“I had some open looks and I was able to knock them down,” said Frankamp after his best scoring performance in EuroLeague, “My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open. I’ve been working hard and I was able to knock some down. We preach a lot about defense. We know that’s the most important thing. But if we can get our offense going and the ball moving then that makes us even more of a threat throughout the rest of the year.”
Lithuanian Mindaugas Kuzminskas scored 12 out of his 15 points in the second quarter as Zenit dominated, 25-13, heading into the break with a comfortable lead. Winning most battles in the paint and limiting long-range threats were enough to remain in control throughout the visit to Istanbul, Turkey.
“When you have this advantage you have to win, you have to close out the game without doing stupid things, without risking too much, and this is what we did,” pointed out Pascual regarding the fourth quarter.
“We spoke all week that it is important to take one step more in,” he added commenting on his side’s 14/31 three-pointers, “In some games, we are not effective; tonight, we were effective. When you have a night like this, you have to win.”
The Russian team once again proved a tough nut to crack and prevailed on the road against Efes for the second straight year, after sweeping the two-game series of the previous Regular Season. The latest win upped the current W-L tally to 5-3.
“We played as a team, 19 assists is a good number for us,” noted Kuzminskas, “I am especially glad that when they were coming back in the game, we showed our character, made some big shots, and finally we won. Big win for us but it’s a long season and everything is ahead. I think our three-point shots are related to our defense because when you play good defense it is easier to score on offense. Everything is related.”
German center, Tibor Pleiss had 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, and one block for Ergin Ataman’s side. Personal solid stretches made out most of the remaining offense, including Shane Larkin and Filip Petrusev putting up all of their 14 and nine points in the fourth and second quarter, respectively. Bryant Dunston, James Anderson, and Dogus Balbay were out.
“We did not play our basketball tonight,” admitted Ataman, “Zenit played great, they used their offense very well. They deserved to win the game. Congratulations to them.”
Despite the loss and being kept scoreless through 16 minutes, it was a special occasion for Chris Singleton. The ex-NBA player, firmly established himself in Europe and EuroLeague, became the all-time record-holder for the most consecutive games played since the start of his career in the continent’s premier club competition. His 210th appearance in a row left Nikos Zisis, settling at 209, in second place.
Following the win at Sinan Erdem Dome, Zenit, also 3-1 in the VTB United League, moves into a three-game homestand starting opposite Olympiacos next Friday. The Turkish side, after a domestic match versus Turk Telekom, will visit ALBA Berlin next Thursday.