He was not heralded as one of the high-impact midseason signings, but when Zenit St Petersburg needed him most, center Tarik Black stepped up in a big way on Friday, playing for the first time against his only former Turkish Airlines EuroLeague team, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv.
Zenit has been in do-or-die mode in recent weeks as it tries break into the EuroLeague Playoffs in just its second season in the competition.
When a proud Maccabi team came to St Petersburg on Friday with the intention of ending its own season on a high note, Zenit's task was complicated by the absence of center Arturas Gudaitis, who had been the team's dominant center during the middle part of the season.
Black made just his second start since joining Zenit in late January but he made his presence felt, especially on defense, from the very start against Maccabi.
He started with a steal on the game's first play and followed that with a second one within 3 minutes. Before the half-way point of the first quarter, he would add 2 blocks, by which time Zenit led 12-6.
His message was clear: there were no friends in yellow jerseys on this night, not while Zenit was fighting for survival. Maccabi would never get a chance to lead while Black and his teammates went from strength to strength for an 86-69 victory that felt even bigger than the final score difference.
"Tonight's game was perfect, from defense to offense and how we approached the game, everything," head coach Xavi Pascual gushed at the end.
Now Zenit has a 19-14 record and one game left to play, a rescheduled Round 6 home date with Panathinaikos OPAP Athens that will take place on Monday in St Petersburg. Just like on Friday, Zenit cannot afford to lose, or it will fall into a tie with Valencia Basket (19-15), but lose that tiebreak and fall to ninth place, out of the playoffs.
Due to Valencia's win on Thursday, Zenit knew that a defeat to Maccabi would mean elimination.
"We prepared every single day and that's the way we are taking it right now: day by day, practice by practice, game by game. That's our focus and when you focus in that way, you don't really get distracted as often. So, we're going to continue to do that until we see the end results."
There was no distraction on Black's part on Friday. Soon he started working for points and getting fouled. He would go to the foul line for his first 5 attempts of the season, in fact. After shooting less than 70% from the line in his two seasons with Maccabi, on this night, Black hit all 5 free throws he took.
He would also made 3 of 4 two-point shots he took and finish with 11 points, 3 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks for a team-high PIR of 21 in 24 minutes on the floor.
Remember that due to injury, Black finished last season earlier than everyone else, making it only to December. He didn't appear in any EuroLeague games for 14 months, but on Monday, the 29-year-old proved he has plenty of motivation left in his tank.
In Zenit, he has found the perfect vehicle to demonstrate that fact.
"I don't think I was the best player in the game," Black said afterward. "It was truly a team effort. I play off [my teammates]. I'm trying to get in the groove and my rhythm, so I play off them."
If Black finds his groove on Monday as he did on Friday, you can expect to see Zenit making history.