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Starlites Naxxar and Gżira Athleta win to seal top spot in MBA Shield group stage

Depiro's TJ Atwood goes for the basket despite the challenge of Zachary Hudson. Photo: Wally Galea

Group A

Starlites Naxxar           83

BUPA Luxol     74           

(14-12, 17-28, 26-18, 26-16)

A late 12-0 run between the 36th and the 39th minute of the game proved the turning point as Starlites Naxxar notched the victory and ascertained top spot in the MBA Shield Group A standings.

BUPA Luxol provided a very encouraging performance.  They enjoyed consistent leads up until the late stage of the game, despite fielding just one professional import player against their opponents’ two, and also missing their locally-based Balkan Slavko Opojevlic.

Three hoops from veteran Marko Matijievic, who had the bulk of game minutes and tussled under the boards, and an and-one play from US guard Caanan Coffey helped Luxol open an early 9-4 lead with Starlites looking also a bit too casual in their initial plays.

Three-balls from guards Robert Bonnici and Ian Felice Pace increased the Naxxar side’s tally only for Jean Paul Schembri to also land a three-pointer himself at the other end.

Starlites only managed to pip marginally ahead at the end of the first quarter with Matthew Scerri’s first points of the game, two conclusions coming from the charity line. The lanky forward ended as the side’s top scorer with further precise shooting later in the game.

The second quarter was Luxol’s best showing in the game as the Violets, donning new outfits, outscored their opponents in the final moments of the first half with a 10-2 to enjoy a nine-point margin at the interval, 40-31.

Although not with the best rate of percentages even due to being tightly marked consistently, Coffey was their main point of reference and landed a number of hoops.

Yet young Nazzareno Buhagiar stole the limelight at this stage with a double digit personal tally in a five-minute stretch.

When play restarted, Starlites immediately aimed for a comeback and they managed to get level within three minutes with their US duo, Jacob Bates and Jamiah Haynes, on target.

Play was balanced midway through the third quarter until Luxol sped marginally ahead again in the late stages after a Stefan Capello close-range putback and a long distance shot from young Alessio Trapani.

A similar threeball, this time from Schembri, opened the last rubber for Luxol but Starlites again recovered the deficit with free throws from Scerri and Bates following an Alec Felice Pace hoop.

With four minutes to go, Capello nailed a trey but this had to be Luxol’s last lead,

71-69, in the game as here their opponents registered a winning 12-0 rally to open a decisive double-digit lead with the game clock totally in their favour.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 11, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, R. Bonnici 8, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 19, J. Bates 18, L. Farrugia 4, J. Haynes 17.   

Luxol: J. Cefai, K. Gauci, N. Buhagiar 13, P. Attard, JP Schembri 11, A. Trapani 3, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 20,  M. Matijevic 17, S. Cappello 10.

Referees: D. Torok, F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu.

Group B

Depiro             82

Gżira Athleta  95                                                

(16-27, 13-22, 33-20, 16-26)

Gżira Athleta took top spot in Group B after beating Depiro in a game between two sides who were already sure of their semi-final berths but had to determine the final group placings and the subsequent pairings for the semi-finals.

This encounter had different facets with each side having its positive moments. After a very balanced first part of the first quarter, Gżira Athleta took control of the tempo and managed to open a significant 49-29 half-time lead.

Depiro hit back strongly after the interval and managed to re-open the game with the margin between them also going down to a mere three points. However, Athleta managed to land a decisive 11-0 rally late in the game which re-established a double-digit margin for them.

Luca Stefanovic notched the game’s first basket with a trey. The latter forward had a positive shooting afternoon as he amassed a nice tally of 23 points.

Other locals, Nathan Xuereb and Francesco Mifsud Bonnici added further hoops to move Gzira 13-6 ahead.

With Alex Oriakhi making his towering presence felt under the boards, and points from his fellow compatriots TJ Atwood and Corey Henderson, Depiro somewhat improved.

But Athleta, even after losing guard Mifsud Bonnici through injury, still maintained their lead with closing hoops from their athletic import player Shawn Montague.

A hoop from their other US pro import Zachery Hudson had them 29-16 ahed early in the second rubber.

The game started increasing in intensity and also offered those present with a number of spectacular plays and dunks at both ends.

Montague and Xuereb combined for a 10-0 Athleta run to which Depiro replied with a seven-point streak at the opposite end.

However, Athleta were on a high and further fast play had them close the first half with a 20-point positive margin, 49-29.

Depiro did not throw in the towel and showed the most determination on the court after the interval as they brought down the deficit to a single digit with pressure defence and fast transitions where Atwood was the main point-getter, assisted by guard Andy Attard for a 56-60 score in the 28th minute.

Early in the last quarter, a Montague athletic basket followed by a Stefanovic trey had Gzira leading 74-64 but the game was not over yet as Depiro again grouped their efforts and in just two minutes had the game wide open again at 72-75, after an Oriakhi close range put back.

At the other end Billy Zammit nailed a long-distance shot. With Stefanovic adding a similar shot shortly afterwards in between a Montague hoop and a Hudson and-one play, Gżira had 11 points on the trot and, once again, a double-digit lead.

Time now was against Depiro and they could not claw back into the game this time around as Athleta neutralised all their final efforts.

Depiro: D. Pisani, A. Attard 13, N. Grech, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 39, M. Brincat 1, M. Mallia 8, A. Oriakhi 13, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella, C. Henderson 6.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 13, S. Montague 34, F. Mifsud Bonnici 8, L. Stefanovic 23, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 11, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, R. Abela, B. Zammit 6

Referees: B. Vassallo, K. Dworniczak, V. Nikolic.

STANDINGS

Group A: Starlites Naxxar 4, Hibernians 3, BUPA Luxol 2.

Group B: Depiro, Gzira Athleta, Mellieha Libertas Spalding 2.

FIXTURES

MBA Shield Semi-Finals

SATURDAY: 3.45pm Starlites Naxxar vs Depiro.

SUNDAY: 3.45pm Gzira Athleta vs Hibernians.   

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