Malta opened their FIBA Small Countries of Europe Championship title defence in style as they passed their first test with flying colours. The side dominated their opening game as they cruised to a 96-65 victory against San Marino on Tuesday.
An impressive start from Aaron Falzon, who led Malta’s scoring with 32 points on the day, together with his brother Tevin who put up 20, fired up the side as Kurt Cassar added another 16. For San Marino, Davide Macina was the top scorer with 17 points as Giacomo Pasolini added 16.
Malta coach Andrea Paccarie gave a starting debut to Jack Zammit at point guard, paying him back with an inspiring first showing for the Malta national team (8Pts/5Reb), as David Bugeja, the Falzon brothers, and Kurt Cassar completed the starting five.
San Marino took the tip but missed their first shot of the game and Malta capitalised immediately with the first three-pointer of five from Aaron Falzon and they led throughout. Coach Paccarie’s clan took on the dominant role as San Marino tried to respond but Malta were already up by eight before San Marino’s first time-out. This dominance continued as Malta led by 17 at the end of the first quarter.
The second rubber exposed Malta’s problems in perimeter defence as san Marino were gifted three long-range baskets in a row. However, the Maltese haunted the paint with Cassar and Tevin Falzon playing for contact and increasing their margin to 20 early on.
Francesco Palmieri and Macina proved the only threat for San Marino by the end of the half, with possessions being full-court passes, mostly intercepted by the Maltese defence. They did, however, battle to bring the deficit to 10 before the change of ends with a buzzer-beater by Felici.
Malta continued where they left off in the second half with San Marino in foul trouble throughout the third quarter and Malta eventually in the bonus. At the other end, Bugeja and Peter Shoults proved to be the team’s pickpockets, both ending the day with four steals, with Bugeja also causing trouble with his mid-range shooting to end the game with 11 points.
The game was all but over at the end of the third quarter as a last-second three-ball from Jack Zammit put the title holders 27 points ahead.
The final quarter was simply a formality as the gap reached 30 and coach Paccarie rested his starters, leaving mostly new boys on court. Holding their own, Malta’s boys left no space for anything San Marino’s way as they went on to take the tournament’s first win.
The Malta NT now face Gibraltar on Wednesday in another must-win game as Ireland take on Andorra later on Tuesday.
Malta: J. Zammit 8, D. Bugeja 11, A. Felice Pace 1, P. Shoults 1, M. Scerri, N. Xuereb, T. falzon 20, I. Felice Pace, A. Falzon 32, K. Xuereb 5, K. Cassar 16, P. Engelbert 2.
San Marino: Y. Biordi 3, F. Palmieri 5, F. Bombini, D. Macina 17, L. Liberti, G. Pasolini 16, A. Renzi, G. Moretti 12, L. Liberti 2, T. Felici 4, L. lettoli, M. Micevic 6.