Astana, last season’s 10th place finisher in the VTB United league, staged the first major sensation in the 2018-19 campaign by beating Zenit St. Petersburg 93-91 in the Kazakh capital Sunday. It was Zenit’s second defeat in two games for the team’s worst start in its short four-year history in the league.
Midway through the third quarter, Astana was trailing by 19 points (45-64) when its American point guard Anthony Clemmons went on a shooting spree and scored 13 points in five minutes to help the team reduce the deficit to only four points (66-70) going into the fourth period.
In the final quarter, the hosts continued to erase the lead and eventually tied the score at 79, after Michael Jenkins made three free throws with 6:37 left on the game clock. Former NBA wonderkid Brandon Jennings missed a three-pointer on Zenit’s next possesion and Jaleel O’Brien scored on the other end of the floor to put Astana ahead by two (81-79). Late in the game, Astana was leading by as many as five – Geoffrey Groselle sank a couple of free throws to make it 85-80 – but the visitors bounced back and tied after Yevgeny Voronov and Gal Mekel scored on consecutive possessions with 2:58 to play.
From that point on, Astana was scoring only from the free throw line, but its shooters kept their cool and made eight of 10 foul shots. The game was aptly decided by Clemmons when he converted one of two free throws to stretch the lead to four (93-89) with eight seconds left. Vasily Karasyov’s men had enough time to set one more play for Jennings who raced from Zenit’s three-point line, slalomed between a couple of Astana defenders and laid the ball in as time expired.
Clemmons led all scorers with 26 points and added 10 assists for a double-double. Jalen Reynolds paced Zenit with 21 points and five rebounds.