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Starlites back to winning ways as Gżira Athleta overcome Mellieħa

Gżira Athleta’s Joel Zammit (left) is closely marked by CJ Cordina. PHOTO: WALLY GALEA

STARLITES NAXXAR           78

DEPIRO 57

(24-16, 16-18, 20-12, 18-11)

Starlites Naxxar returned to winning ways as they registered their league double over Depiro after their first-round 75-66 win.

The Naxxar side had the seasonal debut of their new signing Kurt Xuereb whilst Matthew Scerri returned on the court after missing their previous game.

The major juncture in this game arrived in the middle part of the third quarter when Starlites extended their lead to 56-39 after a 9-0 run. With 13 minutes to go till the final buzzer, the Naxxar side managed to control the game tempo and did not allow any comeback from their opponents.

Early Xuereb and Scerri three balls set the points going for the victors but Depiro were not to be taken aback and they managed to react positively to bring the game at par, 10-a-piece, after a TJ Atwood long-distance shot.

Conclusions off Jacob Bates and Alec Felice Pace gave some momentary headway again to Starlites but again Depiro were quick to react through Terence Reese and Alex Oriakhi.

In the final moments of the first quarter, treys from Bates and Jamiah Windom Haynes helped Paul Ferrante’s Naxxar side to open a 24-16 lead.

The lead did not change hands in the second quarter with Bates and the Felice Pace brothers notching most of Starlites’ hoops. Yet Depiro were always at their heels and the first half ended with six points separating the two sides, 40-34.

In the mid-part of the third rubber, Starlites grabbed their important 9-0 run which gave them a commanding lead in the game with Xuereb grabbing a tris of hoops in this run.

Try as they could to re-open the game, Depiro could not bring the deficit to single digits as Starlites managed to hit back immediately to any Depiro initiative.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 9, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 8, M. Fabri 3, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 6, J. Bates 17, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb 9, J. Haynes 6, M. Thomas 18. 

Depiro: S. Galea, B. Nel 2, A. Attard, N. Grech, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 24, M. Brincat 5, M. Mallia, A. Oriakhi 12, M. Debattista 5, L. Vella, T. Reese 9  

Referees: B. Vassallo, I. Ciurariu, F. Ciurariu

GŻIRA ATHLETA  90

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS         85

(18-21, 23-21, 19-18, 30-25)

Mellieħa took the early lead going 15-4 ahead against Gzira Athleta at the fifth minute.

Three Jeremy Joyner hoops set them going and these were followed with a brace of baskets from Nikola Vasovic, a hoop from Vukasin Jandric and a three-ball from Nenad Buvka.

Gżira Athleta had a mini-reply through six Luca Stefanovic points but Mellieha still kept a slight upper edge although, by the end of the first quarter, the margin between the two sides fizzled down to a mere three points, 21-18, after a late Nathan Xuereb trey.

Once again, Mellieħa had a stronger start in the second quarter and managed to re-open a 33-24 lead, after a respective brace of hoops from Jandric and Austin Wrighten.

This margin was present for the next four minutes but a late 9-0 run by Athleta, with their professional duo Shawn Montague and Zachary Hudson

grabbing the hoops, had the two sides go in for the half-time interval just separated by a meagre point, 42-41.

For the third time running, Mellieħa outscored their opponents in the initial part of a quarter managing to go 53-48 ahead.

Gradually, by the end of the third quarter, Gżira Athleta managed to recover the deficit with a brace of Hudson hoops and a Billy Zammit three-ball for a completely tied game, 60-60, with the last quarter to play.

The Montague/Hudson tandem inspired Athleta to a good start when play restarted. These two players shared 52 points between them and helped their side to a double-digit 80-69 lead midway in the last rubber.

Despite this late deficit, Mellieħa did not throw in the towel and tried to come back into the game and points off Isaac Bonett and Wrighten as well as Jandric brought them to 82-86 behind in the last minute.

Athleta missed a brace of free throws but Mellieha also missed the chance to get back on par as they only scored two of four shots from the charity line.

Xuereb and Stefanovic banged in the subsequent free throws to open a five-point lead which proved enough for Gżira to win this game and respond to the earlier 91-88 loss to the same opponents in the first round.

Mellieħa signed the game sheet under protest after some disparity in the number of personal fouls on the official game score sheet.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 26, S. Montague 26, L. Stefanovic 8, N. Xuereb 14, S. Vincic 4, R. Abela 2, S. Mangianiello, B. Zammit 10.  

Mellieħa: M. Falzon, V. Jandric 21, N. Vasovic 18, I. Bonett 1, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 14, J. Joyner 16, M. Azzopardi, CJ Cordina 3, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 12.

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

BUPA Luxol     70

HIBERNANS    79

(20-14, 8-17, 25-22, 17-26)

Hibs managed to maintain their shared top spot in the standings with Starlites after they had to dig hard to bear a resolute BUPA Luxol side with the win only being decided in a four-minute spell right in the middle of the final quarter with an 11-2 Hibs streak that led to a margin which could not be recovered by Luxol in the last two minutes of the game.

Luxol need to be commended for the manner they are performing, given also the fact that they are still the only side playing with one professional import player. The Violets also enjoyed the lead a number of times in this game against a side which was scoring a century in all their last matches and had also beaten Luxol 110-69 in the first round.

Points off Canaan Coffey, Slavko Opojevlic and Marko Matijevic helped Luxol start with an early 12-4 lead. Despite some hoops from Christian Soderholm, Mason Vires and Keith Dimech, Hibs could not reach their opponents as Luxol ended the first quarter 20-14 ahead.

A nine-point run, including a respective brace of hoops from the returning David Bugeja and the tall centre Ivan Demcesen, helped the Paolites to grab their first lead in the game.

Despite some baskets from Luxol’s guard Jean Paul Schembri and a Paul Attard trey, Hibs still managed to stay ahead and increased marginally the lead by half time after some final offensive plays from Vires.

After the sides changed ends, Hibs seemed to be moving to a decisive lead when they opened an early double-digit lead, 43-30.

But here, Luxol refound their touch after a time out and treys from Opojevlic and Juan Cefai were followed by further hoops from Coffey and Matijevic and by the end of the third quarter there was total parity on the court at 53-53.

It was still an open, tight game four minutes into the final rubber when a Coffet threeball made it 60-61.

However, here, Hibs scored ten points on the run, with three hoops coming from close range through Demcesen.

With the time ticking down, the pressure was now on Luxol but they could not recover the lost ground once again and Soderholm’s final hoops ascertained Hibs fifth league success.

Luxol: J. Cefai 8, K. Gauci, N. Buhagiar, P. Attard 7, JP Schembri 3, A.Trapani, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 23, S. Opojevlic 11, M. Matijevic 18.

Hibs: M.Vires 17, N. Cassar, D. Bugeja 11, L. Farrugia 7, K. Dimech 2, A. Axiaq 6, R. Aquilina, M. Attard, C. Soderholm 17, I. Demcesen 19.

Referees: D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu.

Standings: Starlites Naxxar, Hibs 11; Gzira Athleta, Mellieħa Libertas Spalding 9; Depiro 8; BUPA Luxol 6.

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