The 18th of October has already become a very special date in in the history of Zenit St Petersburg.
That's because last night, the Russian club, the only complete newcomer in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague this season, managed to survive overtime and grab its first-ever win in the competition on a historical court, Peace and Friendship Stadium, against a historical club, Olympiacos Piraeus.
Yesterday will also be a lasting memory for Polish forward Mateusz Ponitka, who was the clutch player in Zenit's epic victory, which saw Olympiacos score the last 6 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Home teams and the team that come back to tie and score first in overtime usually win, and Olympiacos was all of those. But Ponitka had other ideas.
He had not been much of a factor in Zenit's previous two games, with just 9 points and 9 index rating combined, but his performance at Peace and Friendship Stadium changed that narrative going forward.
Ponitka posted 18 points for Zenit on 7-for-11 field goal shooting, added 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and drew 7 fouls for a performance index rating of 24. His scoring and PIR were the second-best numbers in each category for the 26-year-old forward, who debuted in the EuroLeague as a teenager with Asseco Gdynia in 2012, and played one additional season in the competition, for Stelmet Zielona Gora, in 2015-16.
Ponitka's stat line on Friday doesn't fully reveal how big he became in Piraeus, because his relevance was greatest when it mattered most. He scored 7 of his 18 points in the last 7 minutes of the game – five of them in overtime – and it was not even a matter of what he did, but how he did it.
His perfect one-handed floater to beat the shot-clock buzzer came when Olympiacos trailed just by a point in the extra time. A minute later, he cut along the baseline to take a pass from Gustavo Ayon and turn it into a three-point play. Then he went to the other end and registered a monster block – just the third of his Euroleague career – that was the last word in an unforgettable chapter of Zenit's history book.
And after he was done making it happen, Ponitka promised that Zenit was not done winning in the EuroLeague.
"I'm really happy that our team has won the first EuroLeague game in its history. It's a great feeling," he said. "We came here ready to fight. We knew we are a good team, with good guys on the team. It was just a matter of time."