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Starlites Naxxar and Depiro win tight openers in men’s MBA Shield

Depiro’s TJ Atwood (right) goes for the basket against Mellieħa. PHOTO: WALLY GALEA

GROUP A

Hibernians      74

Starlites Naxxar           79   

(17-15, 22-23, 17-22, 18-19)

The men’s MBA Shield competition set off with a balanced and tight game where the score regularly changed hands and only was determined in the final

moments when Paola-based Hibernians squared off against Starlites Naxxar.

The latter emerged winners mainly thanks to a late seven-point rally which opened a nine-point margin, 77-68, with one minute to go.

Both sides paraded their new foreign imports with only Hibs’ guard Mason Vires being a familiar face on the island before this encounter. Vires was partnered with Illinois-born Christian Soderholm and this duo ended up becoming the side’s two leading scorers with 28 points between them.

Alec Felice Pace and debutant Jacob Bates helped Starlites to a marginal early lead but it was Hibs who closed off 17-15 ahead, after the first quarter.

Starlites momentarily replied with a good start in the second quarter and an Ian Felice Pace trey helped them to regain a small lead.

However, Hibs’ reply was immediate as Ivan Demcesen, using his height advantage, spearheaded Hibs to a 13-4 run with Keith Dimech and Matthew Attard also landing shots from downtown.

In the first half’s final two rotations of the clock, Starlites increased their efforts and there remained only a solitary point separating the two sides at half time, 39-38.

An 11-0 run, early in the third quarter and with Jamiah Windom Haynes and Robert Bonnici grabbing a hoop, Starlites moved 53-44 ahead.

Hibs regained their composure and gradually ate away the deficit with David Bugeja also getting some baskets.

Late in the third quarter, Starlites’ lanky forward Matthew Scerri helped the Naxxar side to some breathing space and the same Scerri, together with Alec Felice Pace, added three balls, once the last quarter commenced, for 66-58.

The game was not over as Hibs fought back and, following a brace of baskets from Luke Farrugia and another from Vires had the game at 68-70.

In the next two minutes, Starlites scored seven points in a row to put late pressure on their opponents who could only reduce the final margin.

The Paolites will now be back in action this Saturday when they meet BUPA Luxol.

Hibs: M. Vires 13, N. Cassar, D. Bugeja 10, L. Farrugia 4, K. Dimech 13, A. Axiaq 2, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 5, C. Soderholm 15, I. Demcesen 12, P. Shoults.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 19, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, R. Bonnici 9, I. Felice Pace 7, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 5, J. Bates 30, L. Farrugia, J. Haynes 9.

Referees: D. Torok, B. Vassallo, K. Dworniczak.

GROUP B

Mellieħa Libertas         70

Depiro             79                                     

(20-18, 11-19, 21-15, 18-27)

Similar to the first game played 24 hours earlier, this encounter, albeit from a different group in this Shield competition, was determined in the closing stages with Depiro leaving the court with an initial win.

The game set off with Mellieħa Libertas opening up an impressive 14-2 lead.

The Northerners’ first bucket came from new-import player Jeremy Joyner and was then followed by contributions from each of the starting five.

Depiro’s play caller James Bamfield had to call an early time-out to stop this initial ‘bleeding’ and his squad somewhat managed to find the right composure and led offensively by the returning TJ Atwood

and his compatriot Corey Henderson, the game was back on balanced note at 20-18 for Mellieħa after the end of the first quarter.

Despite Vukasin Jandric’s hoops in the second quarter, it was Depiro who managed to overturn the score in their favour and the interval saw the two sides six points away from each other, 37-31.

Despite missing a number of free throws, centre Alexander Oriakhi made his big presence felt for the Mtarfa side beneath the boards.

The margin moved to double figures when play restarted in the second half after a trio of hoops from Atwood.

But Mellieħa, coached this season by Adrian Mifsud, fought back in a strong manner and after further hoops from Joyner and Jandric, a Nik Vasovic (ex-Hibs) and-one play put them back momentarily in front.

It was only a Miguel Brincat trey that helped Depiro to close off the third quarter at par, 52-52.

Mellieħa, once again, had the upper hand, albeit marginally at the start of the final quarter.

The clock was gradually running down and two Mellieħa turnovers ended with buckets from Atwood and Andy Attard and the game was again at par, 66-a-piece.

Here Attard notched a three-ball and Atwood followed with four consecutive points resulting in a Depiro seven-point lead with a minute to play.

Pressure was now totally on Mellieħa as they tried to hurry play.

Yet Depiro maintained their calm and closed off the game ahead. They will now have a game day off as they wait to see the outcome of the game between Mellieħa and Gżira Athleta this Sunday.

Mellieħa: M. Falzon 2, V. Jandric 24, N. Vasovic 11, I. Bonett 2, C. Briffa 2, N. Bukva 5, J. Joyner 24, M. Azzopardi, M. Formosa.

Depiro: D. Pisani, A. Attard 11, N. Grech, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 33, M. Brincat 10, M. Mallia, A. Oriakhi 4, M. Debattista, L. Vella , C. Henderson 21.

Referees: B. Vassallo, K. Dworniczak, I. Simic.

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