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Hibs, Starlites to meet in men’s MBA Shield final

Hibs player Peter Shoults (left) goes for the basket despite the challenge of Joel Zammit. Photo: Wally Galea

Hibs and Starlites Naxxar booked their place in the February final as the humid ambiance somewhat conditions play in Ta Qali

The very damp weather characterizing the weekend somewhat affected the two Shield semi-finals as, despite all the efforts made by the local basketball association, the humidity trapped in the arena resulted in some slippery conditions on the playing surface.

Of course, all the four teams eyeing the two spots in this competition’s final to be played on February 10 were in the same pot, yet it was not easy at times for most of the players to show their true mettle and potential.

At the end of the weekend, it was Starlites Naxxar and Hibs, who incidentally had opened the season with a Group A game ending 79-74 for Starlites, who will fight for the Shield after getting the better of Depiro and Gżira Athleta respectively.

The BOV League will now officially set off in the coming weekend.

Starlites Naxxar           91

Depiro             79           

(22-30, 26-9, 18-15, 25-25)

Group A winners Starlites Naxxar kept their unbeaten run with a win over Depiro who had an encouraging start but then seemed to fizzle out as time went by.

The game, throughout which both teams shot below par from the charity line, set off with a trey from Depiro’s Miguel Brincat only for Jacob Bates to reply immediately at the other end with the first three-ball for Starlites who later notched an impressive tally of 18 long-distance shots till the final buzzer.

The first marginal lead was for the Naxxar side as Jamiah Windom-Haynes and Robert Bonnici poured in a brace of respective hoops.

Midway in the first quarter there was a lead change as Depiro, using also their superiority in the offensive boards, went on an 11-0 streak after powerful post play by Alex Oriakhi followed by buckets from his compatriots TJ Atwood and Corey Henderson as well Miguel Mallia’s precise shots for 22-16.

Although Matthew Scerri poured in two back-to-back three balls for the winners, Depiro still maintained the upper edge with a 30-22 first-quarter lead after two late threes from Henderson.

The second rubber set off with an 11-2 Starlites’ run led by Bates who was finding the right space around Depiro’s key.

Despite Depiro’s efforts, Starlites moved to an almost double-digit half-time lead, 48-39, with four consecutive treys in the final stages of the first half.

Inspired by Atwood, Depiro set off on a stronger note in the second half and momentarily reduced the margin to six points after four minutes.

But Starlites then gradually regained their initial game composure as treys from Haynes and Alec Felice Pace had them back with a double-digit positive margin, 66-54, with ten minutes to play.

Although a Depiro push for a comeback was expected, it was Starlites who moved towards the victory with a 9-0 run in a minute and a half. Here they found themselves 82-61 ahead.

Depiro did respond here with four sequential hoops as the slippery surface started leaving more its mark.

Starlites’ tally of 18 treys was achieved with late distance shots from Bonnici and Alec Felice Pace.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 13, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, R. Bonnici 14, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 13, J. Bates 28, L. Farrugia, J. Haynes 18.

Depiro: A. Attard 3, N. Grech, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 29, M. Brincat 5, M. Mallia 5, A. Oriakhi 15, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella 2, C. Henderson 18.

Referees: B. Vassallo, K. Dworniczak, F. Ciurariu.

Gżira Athleta  47

Hibernians      88                                                 

(6-24, 14-27, 15-14, 12-23)

A 23-0 Hibs run in the early stages of the game greatly conditioned this game as the Paolites clearly took the upper hand and found themselves, possibly even themselves surprised as well, 28-6 ahead after just 11 minutes of play.

Gżira Athleta were seemingly more concerned about the playing surface than their opponents and were surely out of tune on the day and could not match their opponents. They were shooting at a low percentage and could only reply in short spurts, mainly through the athletic import player Shawn Montague.

But Hibs were continuously hitting back at a greater rate, were superior under the respective boards and forced their opponents to a number of turnovers.

The first five minutes did not demonstrate any superior side as the two teams matched each other evenly with Gżira having also a marginal lead after initial buckets from Zachary Hudson and Montague.

A David Bugeja bucket started Hibs commanding 23-0 streak as Mason Vires and Chris Soderholm added a number of hoops and transitional play till the end of the first quarter and then the towering Ivan Demcesen started finding more space under the boards and was also fed a couple of intelligent assists.

The half-time buzzer sounded with Hibs firmly 51-20 in front.

The third rubber was more evenly matched as Athleta’s Montague hoops were also helped with a brace of Ryan Abela baskets.

However, Hibs were still in control of the game and they still managed to maintain their handsome lead.

More bench players found space on the court in the last quarter with Athleta’s youngsters Isaac Xuereb and Jordan Ellul Dowling also finding the net but Hibernians also managed to close off the encounter with a 10-point run and will now eagerly await the final against Starlites in February.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 6, S. Montague 23, F. Mifsud Bonnici 3, L. Stefanovic 2, J. Ellul Dowling 3, N. Xuereb 1, I. Xuereb 2, S. Vincic, R. Abela 7, B. Zammit.

Hibs: M.Vires 24, N. Cassar, D. Bugeja 14, L. Farrugia, A. Axiaq, R. Aquilina, M. Attard, C. Soderholm 20, I. Demcesen 27, P. Shoults 3.

Referees: B. Vassallo, I. Simic, V. Nikolic.

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