(13-25, 15-27, 23-16, 26-21)
A late first quarter 11-0 run followed by a late second quarter 17-2 streak spearheaded Starlites to a comfortable win over Hibs, the former’s seventh league success and two more than their opponents who have now fallen to third place in the standings.
Both sides had different fortunes as regards their ‘foreign legion’.
Hibs again had to do without their towering Serb centre Ivan Demcesen who may be set for a for a long lay-off due to a foot injury.
On the other hand, Starlites GiG presented a new American player, 22-year-old Travis McConico, a 198cm forward who in the last two seasons played in the NCAA Division 1 in the Big South Conference with the Charleston Southern Bucs and then featured for Jacksonville Giants in the American Basketball Association until the end of last month.
Additionally, Starlites player Konor Kulas seemed very motivated after it was announced along the week that he will be returning to the Australian semi-professional Big V League in Victoria.
The 26-year-old Kulas signed with Blackburn Vikings after he had featured with the Werribee Devils, in the same league, in the last two seasons.
It is understood that Kulas will only be going to Australia after the end of the season even though the Australian league starts this month.
Hibs had the very early lead through a Chandler Rowe trey and a David Bugeja basket but Starlites immediately replied through Kulas, Bobby Ahearn and an Alec Felice Pace and-one play.
A Matthew Scerri three ball and floater added to Kulas’ points as the Naxxar side closed off the first quarter with 11 points on the run, 25-13.
Although Hibs improved at the start of the second quarter, the margin remained constant up till half-way in the same session.
Here, Starlites extended their lead with a strong 17-2 run as McConico, who started off the bench, notched his first hoops here.
There were 24 points separating the two sides at half-time, 52-28. This was reduced a bit in the third quarter as Hibs showed more fight including an eight-point run followed by two treys.
Yet, Starlites, who ended with a 100 per cent precision from the free throw line, never let the game go out of their control and maintained a double-digit lead throughout.
In the last rubber, Hibs managed to come within 13 points of their opponents on two occasions, with Jay Hardy more in the limelight.
But Starlites still managed to reply including with treys from Robert Bonnici.
Late in the game, the Paolites made it a more respectable scoreline with six consecutive points.
HIBERNIANS: J. Hardy 19, P. Attard, D. Bugeja 18, K. Caruana, L. Farrugia 3, I. Bonett, N. Vasovic 13, A. Axiaq 2, M. Attard, C. Rowe 22
STARLITES: A. Felice Pace 6, B. Zammit, R. Bonnici 14, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri, M. Falzon, M. Scerri 11, R. Carabott 4 T. McConico 14, K. Kulas 30, R. Ahearn 10.
Referees: B. Vassallo, K. Dworniczak, V. Nikolic.
GŻIRA ATHLETA 104
(20-27, 8-23, 20-31, 17-23)
Gżira Athleta returned to winning ways after three straight league defeats.
The champions, who had notched five consecutive wins at the start of the season, are now one game away from the present league leaders Starlites.
From their end, Depiro, who are still with a chance to notch the fourth and final play-off spot as they battle Luxol in this regard, are passing through a difficult moment.
Even though they recovered the slick shooter Quin Cooper after an injury lay-off, they now had to do without the fellow American Cordarius Johnson as well as local duo Kurt Xuereb and Nicholas Grech, all on the injury list. The Mtarfa side also were missing their play caller Julian Naudi for this match.
The game was very balanced up till the ninth minute as Depiro were showing positive play and were even 20-19 ahead as Cooper quickly found his mark, assisted by Adam Chomo’s efforts under the boards.
Gżira Athleta let loose in the last minute with eight points on the run with Connell Crossland continuing netting hoops as from the tip-off whilst Matthew Gouder and Peter Shoults added late first-quarter points.
Athleta did not let go and further extended their lead as they notched another 15 points, with no reply, in the first half of the second season for an overall 23 points run and a 42-20 lead.
Cooper did finally break Depiro’s point drought after six minutes but Gżira still had the upper edge and late treys from Gouder and Luca Stefanovic made it 50-28 at the interval.
Depiro did improve when play restarted with Daniel Farrugia grabbing a brace of hoops and Cooper netting his side’s only trey in the game.
Yet, in the latter part of the third quarter, Nathan Xuereb came in and assisted Crossland in scoring hoops to widen further Athleta’s lead.
The last quarter was a mere formality as bench players also had some playing time.
DEPIRO: Q. Cooper 24, J. Attard, D. Farrugia 8, A. Attard 1, O. Said 9, M. Borg, M. Brincat 6, A. Chomo 17, T. Zammit
GŻIRA ATHLETA: S. Pace 3, C. Crossland 37, P. Shoults 8, L. Stefanovic 5, S. Galea 3, N. Xuereb 14, M. Gouder 26, N. Buhagiar 2, I. Thiesen 4, R. Abela 2.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic.
Starlites GiG (7-2) 16; Gżira Athleta (6-3) 15; Hibernians (5-4) 14; Depiro (2-7) 11; BUPA Luxol (2-6) 10.