(22-17, 14-17, 22-23, 16-17; 14-13)
The 2020-21 BOV Men’s League got off with an extended encounter as the first game had to be decided after one overtime period with Mellieħa Libertas Spalding, making a return to the first division after a number of years, stunned Hibs by a solitary point.
As Mellieħa opened up with more focus to snatch an early lead, having a points contribution by each of their starting five, Hibs gradually started gnawing back into their deficit by half-time.
The Paolites then had a positive start to the second half with a 13-2 run for an almost double-digit lead and seemed to have found the right momentum as they also established their dominance underneath the boards.
However, Mellieħa showed great character as they swiftly fought back to even regain the lead. Top scorer Vukasin Jandric was on fire with an impressive 12-point personal tally within the span of a handful of minutes as the two sides moved into the last quarter practically head to head and all to play for.
Ivan Demcesen used his height underneath the boards for a brace of buckets followed by a Paul Attard trey for an early Hibs lead but with Peter Shoults and Jandric continuing to lead the northerners, the latter kept their cool and a 37th-minute three ball from Nenad Stojanivski had them 70-66 ahead.
It was still anybody’s game as Jandric kept on his second half shooting precision, after only 10 points in the first. However last-minute free throws from David Bugeja and Anton Axiaq led to a tied score, 74-74, at the end of regulation time.
Eight Demcesen points gave Hibs some breathing space in the first part of overtime but Shoults spurred his side forward and with Hibs still not very precise from long range and missing crucial free throws, Mellieħa notched the opening league victory after a Jandric trey and a final free throw from a set of two in the last seconds.
Mellieħa: A. Schembri, V. Jandric 46, M. Falzon, P. Shoults 20, M. Azzopardi, I. Bonett 5, C. Briffa, M. Gauci Montaldo, N. Stojanovski 13, K. Skrabec 4.
Hibs: P. Attard 3, D. Bugeja 20, K. Caruana 6, L. Farrugia 1, N. Vasovic 8, A. Axiaq 14, M. Matijevic 3, K. Dimech 6, N. Cassar, M. Attard, I. Demcesen 26.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, L. Camilleri.
Gżira Athleta 68
(25-17, 16-15, 21-18, 17-18)
Depiro obtained the only double digit win on game day 1 when they overcame the resistance offered by the present league crown holders Gżira Athleta.
The latter were shorn of the services of their registered import duo Dedrian Parmer Jr and Dylan Causwell who are both under the required quarantine before joining their new team-mates.
On the other hand, Depiro, under their new playcaller James Bamfield had the official debut of Cuba-born Marlon Sierra and US centre Cliff Thomas who shared 27 points between them and contributed significantly towards the win.
Both sides were laden with local talent as the two teams are also on a transitionary process whereby they will seemingly be pressing on the development of the same young players for the future.
Depiro quickly opened a double digit 16-6 lead but Gżira, who had Peter Farrugia at their helm for the first time, kept at their heels with their duo Nathan Xuereb and Matthew Gouder leading the pack.
A series of buckets from Miguel Mallia in third quarter and Adam Chomo in the final quarter added with more rebounding power helped Depiro extend their lead to 70-50 although Gżira managed to reduced the final margin with a late 10-0 run in the last three minutes.
Depiro: M. Sierra 14, C. Thomas 13, M. Debattista, D. Pisani, A. Attard 2, N. Grech, D. Farrugia 6, K. Xuereb 14, M. Borg, M. Brincat 9, M. Mallia 9, A. Chomo 12.
Gżira Athleta: N. Bukva 11, F. Mifsud Bonnici 6, J. Wait, L. Stefanovic 9, N. Xuereb 18, M. Gouder 20, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic 2, R. Abela 2.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic.
Starlites GiG 77
BUPA Luxol 75
(17-17, 24-20, 15-22, 21-16)
The last game in the weekend’s schedule resulted in an open and balanced affair that could have gone either way with possibly the turnovers and game fatigue resulting in the determining factors at the end in the winners’ favour.
Both Starlites GiG and BUPA Luxol paraded their import players amidst another two young local sides in this, practically all game long, tit-for-tat affair.
Following a game high 12-0 run in the middle part of the second quarter, inspired by the debutants Kyree Elder and Arsenio Arrington and long-range shots from Jean Paul Schembri and Juan Cefai, Luxol enjoyed a momentary maximum nine-point lead, 30-21.
However Starlites did not waste too much time to hit back and closed the first half with a marginal 41-39 lead with closing half points from local trio Alec Fenech Pace, Matthew Scerri and Jack Zammit.
After playing just one match for the Naxxar side before the Covid-19 break, Travis McConico was back and played a major part in this win whilst his compatriot Bobby Ahearn assisted in his department but still needs to regain his physical sharpness.
It was still tight ten minutes later with Luxol now enjoying a slender 59-56 advantage with the last quarter to play.
A quick 11-4 start, with seven points from Robert Bonnici, overturned the score in Starlites’ favour but Luxol were not to be undone as they persisted in their actions till the last moments as two late treys made it a one-point game.
In the dying two seconds, McConico deposited the first of two free throws and then, intelligently, missed the last one to deny Luxol the opportunity to move the ball up the court as Starlites savoured their first league win.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 12, J. Zammit 5, B. Zammit, R. Bonnici 13, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, M. Vella, M. Scerri 10, R. Carabott 2, T. McConico 22, A. Xuereb, R. Ahearn 8.
Luxol: R. Rutkauskas, K. Gauci 3, J. Cefai 13, E. Caruana Montaldo, JP Schembri 11, L. Trapani, I. Pace 2, K. Elder 34, S. Opejlevic, A. Arrington 12, S. Cappello.
Referees: K. Dworniczak, I. Simic, V. Nicolic.