Malta could not emulate the superb performance against Andorra as they fell to a 78-48 loss against Group A winners Ireland on Thursday.
The Irish’s speed on the fast-break and greater rebounding advantage made the difference as they lead throughout the game.
Center Claire Melia led Ireland’s charge with 19 points and 13 rebounds, Rachel Huijsdens adding 10 points. For Malta, it was Kristy Galea who led the scoring with 14 points from a barrage of threes as Josephine Grima added eight.
Malta coach Angela Adamoli made just one change from the starting five, giving the nod to Julia Xerri ahead of Claire Ciantar this time. Ireland were unchanged from their first game against Andorra on Tuesday.
The game took a quick tempo immediately and Ireland opened proceedings through a Fiona O’Dwyer layup. Malta were stunned and Ireland went on a 6-0 run before Galea opened with a three-ball. The guard hit another before Samantha Brincat also hit from three-point range with Malta building up hope as the game was back to within two points with five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Offensive rebounds enabled Ireland to reopen the gap as the Malta defence began to lag behind.
Defending remained a problem in the second quarter and coach Adamoli went taller to counter rebounding problems. However, there was little they could do to contain Ireland’s Melia who had become a problem up and down the court.
The paint became an issue for Malta as Ireland’s fast pace pushed the gap to double-digits this time.
Defensively, the side also looked more compact, restricting the Maltese to taking shots from range. Galea’s buzzer-beater three reduced the gap but it was a mountain to climb in the second half.
After the break, Malta showed more strength but Ireland still found spaces inside, eventually going ahead of the 20-point margin. They turned this into 30 in the final quarter with Malta unable to respond as Ireland secured top spot in Group A.
In the semi-finals, Malta face the leaders of Group B – presumingly Luxembourg, on Saturday as Ireland take on the second-placed Kosovo or Cyprus. Both teams will be decided after Thursday’s game between Luxembourg and Cyprus later on.
MALTA: S. Abela 2, K. Galea 14, M. Riolo 3, S. Brincat 6, M. Bonett, S. De Martino 7, C. Sollami, C. Ciantar 4, J. Xerri 1, S. Lecuyer, J. Grima 8, C. Curmi 3.
IRELAND: M. Clarke 8, A. McKenna 4, D. Finn 9, C. Rockall 2, R. Huijsdens 10, G. Dwyer 4, E. Thornton 5, F. O’Dwyer 6, C. Melia 19, H. Thornton 2, S. Tiernan 5, A. O’Connor 4.