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Wins for Starlites, Hibs and Mellieħa Spalding Libertas on Day One of National League

Mellieħa's Jeremy Joyner (right) goes for the basket despite the challenge of Zachery Hudson. Photo: Wally Galea

The BOV Men League set off with Game Day one which had Mellieħa Libertas Spalding grab their first seasonal win after a tight battle with Gzira Athleta.

Earlier, Starlites Naxxar pipped Depiro after a generally balanced game whilst Hibs were outright winners over BUPA Luxol.

DEPIRO            66

STARLITES       75

(22-22, 14-20, 14-22, 16-11)

The first 2021/2022 league encounter ended with a Starlites Naxxar win as they defeated a Depiro side that led for the first third of the game but then fell behind by the interval, and later suffered an 18-5 streak which opened a double-digit lead for the Naxxar side.

Both sides had a brace of US import players available for this game with Starlites having the duo Jacob Bates/Jamiah Windom Haynes but also having a third player on the sides, Miles Thomas.

The latter is the latest addition to the squad and had just arrived in Malta and probably will be donning Starlites’ colours in the next game day.

Depiro had TJ Atwood and Alex Oriakhi on the court as Corey Henderson was, apparently, cut and his place is understood to be taken by a new US signing in the coming days.

Although Starlites set off with very early hoops from Alec Felice Pace and Robert Bonnici, it was Depiro who had most of the lead in the first rubber, setting off with an Oriakhi hoop and then followed by Atwood’s poker of baskets and a Miguel Brincat three.

The Naxxar side were never far behind and despite further Depiro hoops from Oriakhi and Atwood, they managed to get to par by the end of the first quarter through three Bates’ baskets and another from Haynes.

Starlites overturned the score midway in the second quarter after an 8-0 run with treys from Bonnici and Louie Farrugia, moving to a 42-36 lead at half time.

Depiro fell behind when they suffered a 5-18 streak in six minutes during the third rubber with all Starlites players on the court involved well in these moments.

A Matthew Scerri hoop closed off the quarter with Starlites now enjoying a double-digit lead which then also increased to 18 points at 70-52 with seven minutes to the final buzzer.

In these last minutes, Depiro continued to have supremacy in the offensive boards and managed to slightly reduce the deficit mainly through Oriakhi. However, Starlites were never put under pressure of losing the match.

DEPIRO: A. Attard 6, N. Grech 4, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 24, M. Brincat 3, M. Mallia 8, A. Oriakhi 21, M. Debattista, L. Vella.

STARLITES: A. Felice Pace 14, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, R. Bonnici 14, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 6, J. Bates 20, L. Farrugia 3, J. Haynes 18.

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

HIBERNIANS   110

BUPA LUXOL   69

(20-9, 38-20, 22-22, 30-18)

Hibernians strolled through an easy win over a BUPA Luxol side who are feeling the brunt of having a solitary professional player in their ranks.

The Paolites set off on a strong note with Mason Vires and David Bugeja sharing a 15-0 early run. Luxol’s Canaan Coffey tried his best to inspire Luxol on the offensive end and his points reduced the deficit to 9-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Ivan Demcesen’s entry on the court gave further superiority to Hibs under the boards and together with Christian Soderholm’s shots, the Paolites were firmly in command at 40-14 after 16 minutes of play.

After going in for the interval at 58-29, Luxol did somewhat improve in the third quarter as they shared the points in the third quarter as their duo Stefan Capello and Jean Paul Schembri made some hoops.

Hibs, already certain of the win, regained full control of the game in the last rubber as they also reached the century mark with three minutes to go for the final buzzer.

HIBERNIANS: M.Vires 30, N. Cassar 2, M. Vucinic 3, D. Bugeja 14, L. Farrugia 5,  A. Axiaq, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 10, C. Soderholm 15, I. Demcesen 24, P. Shoults 7.

BUPA LUXOL: J. Cefai, K. Gauci, N. Buhagiar, P. Attard 6, JP Schembri 4, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 30, S. Opojevlic 4, M. Matijevic 8, S. Cappello 17.

Referees: D. Torok, K. Dworniczak, I. Simic.

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS    91

GŻIRA ATHLETA            88

(21-18, 34-21, 12-24, 24-25)

Mellieħa Libertas Spalding and Gzira Athleta fought out a very balanced game which ended with a tight 3-point win for the Northerners, giving them a psychological boost at the start of the league, this also being their first seasonal victory.

The victors paraded a new US signing, the 24 year old, Virginia-born Austin Wrighten, who played Div 3 NCAA ball with Lynchburg College and then played in the Estonian second division in the last two seasons.

Wrighten joined the other two foreigners, namely local based Serb Vukasin Jandric as well as fellow American Jeremy Joyner.

Mellieha’s playcaller Adrian Mifsud rotated these three players during the game, given that only two foreigners can be on the court at any moment. At the end, this trio notched 62 points.

At the other end, Gzira Athleta’s foreign duo Shawn Montague and Zachary Hudson combined for 55 points as the team also had the first seasonal appearance for local Matthew Gouder.

Two ex-Gzira Nenad Bukva treys set Mellieha going as they went to an early 8-0 lead as Joyner added a close-range hoop.

A brace of Francesco Mifsud Bonnici transition penetrations helped Gzira Athleta claw back into the game and later, hoops from Montague and Hudson gave them the first momentary lead 18-17 but two late Jandric hoops gave Mellieha the slight upper edge, 21-18, after the first quarter.

Midway in the second quarter, Mellieha managed to open a double-digit lead, 34-24, following a Mirco Azzopardi trey and a Joyner and-one play.

Athleta tried to get back in line but some Wrighten baskets, even from long range added with a Vasovic threeball had Mellieha, who could improve on their free throw shooting percentages, change ends 55-39 in the lead.

An 11-2 run mainly from Montague and Hudson, in the middle part of the third quarter, allowed Gzira to lower the deficit to a single digit. Despite a brace of Wrighten hoops, baskets from locals Nathan Xuereb and Gouder made it, momentarily, a 2-point game, 65-67.

Jandric and Joyner combine for a six-point streak but this was immediately neutralized with a similar run, at the opposite end, after a tris of Montague hoops.

The game was now wide open until Mellieha scored seven points on the trot with two minutes to go to re-open a double-digit lead, 88-77, now with the clock firmly in their favour.

Athleta, not shooting as per their norm from long distance and committing more turnovers than their opponents, however, kept believing and eight straight points from Montague had them merely a three-ball away, 85-88.

Bukva landed a free throw from two but Hudson baked in a three-ball, for 88-89, with only seconds to go. With Athleta pressing full court, Mellieha caught their opponents open at the back and Bukva ascertained the victory with a solitary basket with less than half a second to go.

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS: M. Falzon, V. Jandric 19, N. Vasovic 9, I. Bonett 2, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 12, J. Joyner 23, M. Azzopardi 4, CJ Cordina 2, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 20

GŻIRA ATHLETA: Z. Hudson 25, S. Montague 30, F. Mifsud Bonnici 12, L. Stefanovic 6, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 7, M. Gouder 7, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, R. Abela, J. Caruana, B. Zammit 1

Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, K. Dworniczak

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