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Mellieħa stun Starlites as first round comes to a close

Gżira Athleta’s Nathan Xuereb goes for the basket agagainst Luxol. PHOTO: WALLY GALEA

The final game day of the first round of the BOV Men League had an interesting result when Mellieħa Libertas Spalding jumped to the second spot in the standings after they had the

better of the leaders Starlites Naxxar with the latter suffering their first defeat in the campaign.

Hibs pounced on this Starlites slip as they now share the top spot in the standings after they beat Depiro and registered another century win.

In the final game of the weekend, Gżira Athleta and BUPA Luxol crossed swords with Athleta getting their second win.

Depiro             76

Hibernians      100                          

(24-25, 19-34, 20-19, 13-22)

After yet another century win, making it four such wins in the first round and only missing the century score by a mere point in their solitary loss against Starlites, Hibs managed to end the first round at a joint top spot with Starlites Naxxar.

The match was decided in the final five minutes of the first half when Hibs, following a 25-10 run in five minutes, not only overturned the lead in their favour but opened a double-digit lead which made it very difficult for Depiro to recover.

After a point shortage in the initial two minutes with a single hoop from Depiro’s Miguel Brincat, the game changed course in a definite manner and immediately gained momentum with baskets raining at both ends.

The first quarter was a very balanced affair, ending with Hibs enjoying a marginal 25-24 lead with almost all their starting five contributing to the points tally.

Their athletic guard Mason Vires was immediately evident with his strong and quick moves whilst Chris Soderholm added also seven points till this point with his strong, physical plays.

From their end, Depiro were playing at par with their opponents with their American duo, TJ Atwood and centre Alex Oriakhi, ending most of their plays including a quarter-ending 11-3 run.

The latter duo were again on target at the start of the second quarter and a 6-0 streak had Depiro 32-29 ahead.

The Paolites responded with ten consecutive points which started with a Keith Dimech hoop, but Depiro still managed to momentarily recover to return within striking distance after three back-to-back free throws from Sean Galea for 40-43.

In the final two minutes of the first half, Hibs banged in four threeballs, a brace from Matthew Attard and one from Anton Axiaq and Soderholm to enjoy a 59-43 lead at half time.

Although trying hard to claw their way back into the game and having a number of Oriakhi hoops and also a Terrence Reese trey early in third quarter, Depiro could never close the gap.

Hibs always maintained control as more treys from Vires and Soderholm and also a brace of similar distance shots from Keith Dimech kept them well ahead.

Atwood had nine consecutive points for Depiro but Hibs made sure of the win when they set off in the final rubber with a 12-0 run, including a brace of Ivan Demcesen close-range shots.

The century mark was reached in the closing moments of the game after a Vires conclusion.

Depiro: S. Galea 9, B. Nel, N. Grech 2, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 38, M. Brincat 2, M. Mallia, A. Oriakhi 18, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella, T. Reese 5.

Hibs: M.Vires 31, N. Cassar, L. Farrugia 4,  K. Dimech 17, A. Axiaq 3, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 13, C. Soderholm 27, I. Demcesen 5.    

Referees: B. Vassallo, D. Torok, I, Ciurariu.

Starlites Naxxar           79

Mellieħa          87                           

(11-16, 18-20, 27-20, 23-31)

Mellieħa opened a slight early lead, despite having Vukasin Jandric on two early fouls, with hoops from Isaac Bonett and Nikola Vasovic.

With Starlites trying to find their rhythm, the Northerners maintained their edge with further baskets from their US duo Austin Wrighten, coming off the bench, and Jeremy Joyner as well as naturalised Maltese Nenad Buvka.

An early second quarter 7-0 run, helped Mellieħa to even open a double-digit lead, 23-11, which was later even extended to a 16-point margin, 32-16, in the 15th minute of play after more hoops from Bonett and Joyner.

The Naxxar side, who lost Robert Bonnici to an ACL injury in the week and also had Matthew Scerri missing for this game, improved after their first time-out. They replied with a 12-2 streak with locals Alec Felice Pace and young Louie Farrugia adding to the hoops from Starlites’ trio of import players, Jacob Bates, Jamiah Windom and Myles Thomas.

The half-time had both sides separated by seven points, 36-29, yet the lead changed hands by midway into the third quarter as Starlites kept the tempo they had at the end of the first half and had a 13-2 run with Windom and Alec Felice Pace leading the Naxxar side to their first lead in the game, 42-38.

It was tit-for-tat for the remainder of the third quarter as both sides replied consistently to each other and in fact all was at par, 56-56, with ten minutes to go.

Early in the last rubber, following a Windham jumper which momentarily replied to Wrighten’s three-ball at the other end, Mellieħa, despite missing two free throws, had a small but important 5-0 run off another Wrighten long-distance shot and a CJ Cordina transition play. At this juncture, the Northerners were now 69-62 ahead with four minutes to play.

Starlites kept trying to reduce the arrears but each of their positive offensive ploys were being matched immediately at the other side of the court until a series of late free throws re-opened a momentary double-digit lead for Mellieħa and ascertained their win, a result that changed the outlook of the whole league standings for all the teams.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 14, I. Azzopardi 3, A. Azzopardi 7, I. Felice Pace 2, M. Fabri 5, L. Riolo, J. Bates 8, L. Farrugia 5, J. Haynes 18, M. Thomas 17.

Mellieħa: M. Falzon, V. Jandric 6, N. Vasovic 16, I. Bonett 11, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 6, J. Joyner 22, M. Azzopardi 2, CJ Cordina 4, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 20.

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

Gżira Athleta  85

BUPA Luxol     75          

(17-17, 25-15, 21-20, 22-23)

Gżira Athleta notched their second league win after they had the better of a BUPA Luxol who however gave a very good account of themselves especially as they are still fielding a single professional import player.

The first quarter of this derby was tightly contested and even ended at par, 17-17. Cannan Coffey and Marko Matijevic’s early hoops for Luxol were replied immediately by Gżira Athleta’s foreign import players Shawn Montague and Zachary Hudson. The latter opened a slender lead after Nathan Xuereb, who had a field day and finished with a massive 34-point personal tally, got his first baskets and free throw in the game.

However, Luxol were very much in the game and a series of close-range shots from Matijevic helped them to keep level with their opponents.

Athleta registered a 13-2 run which gave them some headway with Xuereb grabbing a tris of baskets, This break opened a small but significant lead and the same Athleta managed to control Luxol’s efforts in the remaining part of the first half to close off 42-32 ahead after 20 minutes of effective play.

In the first part of the third quarter Luxol managed to claw slowly back into the game and a series of free throws, even though they also missed some on the way, had them arrive a mere three-ball away at 46-49 in the 26th minute.

Two minutes later Athleta scored a 10-2 run, including four points off Luca Stefanovic, to regain a small lead at 63-52 with ten minutes to play.

Luxol did not throw in the towel and tried to keep up the pace as treys from Coffey and Juan Cefai increased their team total point tally.

But Athleta were replying at the other end. Missed free throws did not help Luxol’s cause and although they still were not far off, Gżira Athleta still could control the tempo in the final stages of the game as final points from the Montague/Xuereb tandem made sure of their victory.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 15, S. Montague 18, L. Stefanovic 4, N. Xuereb 34, I. Xuereb 2, S. Vincic 4, R. Abela, J. Caruana, S. Mangianiello, B. Zammit 8

Luxol: J. Cefai 10, N. Buhagiar, P. Attard 9, JP Schembri 6, A.Trapani, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 20, S. Opojevlic 6, M. Matijevic 24       

Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, K. Dworniczak, I. Simic.

LEAGUE STANDINGS

Starlites Naxxar, Hibs 9; Mellieħa Libertas Spalding 8; Gżira Athleta, Depiro 7; BUPA Luxol 5.

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