The BOV Knock-Out semi-finals resulted in Hibs and Mellieħa Libertas Spalding booking their respective spot in the final after beating Starlites Naxxar and Depiro.
Hibs overcame a stiff resistance from Starlites and had to wait till the final quarter to open a definite double-digit lead whilst Mellieħa Libertas surprised Depiro with a superior second-half display.
The final will be played on March 31 and augurs to be a very interesting affair.
Starlites Naxxar 82
(13-26, 23-16, 24-17, 22-36)
This was a game of different facets with Hibs taking a very early first-quarter lead only for Starlites to gradually not only neutralise the deficit but also take the lead.
However, Hibs took again the upper edge early in the final quarter as an important 14-2 run gave them a psychological edge and they then controlled the proceedings till the final buzzer.
Although Starlites had Jacob Bates grabbing their first hoop and free-throw, Hibs replied with a 10-0 run led by their US pro tandem Mason Vires/Christian Soderholm.
The Naxxar side did react and, for an instant, came back within striking distance but the Paolites had a strong ending to the first quarter as nine straight points moved them to a 26-13 advantage.
This double-digit lead remained present for the first half of the second quarter as every Starlites’ effort was immediately replied at the opposite end.
Six consecutive points by Bates raised Starlites’ morale and with Hibs losing some of their initial offensive touch, the Naxxar side continued to claw back into the game. Late first half points off Myles Thomas and Matthew Scerri made it a three-point game only for Hibs’ Matthew Attard to score a very late trey for a 42-36 score at half time.
The third quarter was Starlites’ as they set off on a strong note right after the break and with Jamiah Wyndom Hames and the Felice Pace brothers precise on a number of plays, the lead even changed hands to 59-55.
The game took a definitive twist at the start of the final rubber when Hibs again jumped well ahead after a 14-2 run with David Bugeja and Keith Dimech adding to the Vires and Soderholm hoops.
The pressure was now on Starlites and the latter did try their best to recover the deficit and they did improve in their offensive plays.
But some turnovers did not help them in their recovery as Hibs then had the clock in their favour and kept their calm from the free-throw line when Starlites resorted to tactical fouls in the final stages of the game.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 10, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 8, J. Bates 27, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 3, J. Haynes 14, M. Thomas 11.
Hibs: M. Vires 32, N. Cassar, M. Vucinic, D. Bugeja 13, L. Farrugia 2, K. Dimech 21, A. Axiaq, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 3, C. Soderholm 18, I. Demcesen 6.
Referees: K. Dworniczak, I. Simic, I. Ciurariu.
(16-16, 20-22, 38-12, 32-9)
The first quarter was tit-for-tat as both sides replied consistently to each other and equally shared 32 points in these first ten minutes.
Depiro raced to an 8-0 lead as Alex Oriakhi’s first hoop on the day was sandwiched by a brace of Miguel Mallia’s three-balls.
Although Mellieħa broke their duck through points off Nikola Vasovic, Depiro still remained infront at this stage of the game as TJ Atwood’s buckets had them 14-6 ahead in the sixth minute.
The lead however changed hands three minutes later after a 10-0 Mellieħa streak with Vukasin Jandric and CJ Cordina scoring regular hoops and Nenad Buvka adding a long-distance shot.
Although Austin Wrighten converted some free throws midway in the second quarter and extended, momentarily, Mellieħa’s lead to 26-22, the lead quickly changed hands again with a 12-4 run including treys from Nicholas Grech and Miguel Brincat.
Despite Mellieħa potted three pointers from Wrighten and Cordina, Depiro still managed to close off the first half ahead with a marginal 38-36 score with Atwood grabbing the side’s final hoop in the second quarter.
After the interval, Wrighten inspired the northerners to a strong start grabbing 11 consecutive personal points.
Depiro tried to keep contact but when Mellieħa scored three treys in a row from Cordina, Isaac Bonett and Jandric, the gap between the two sides increased to a double-digit value.
In the space of the next two and a half minutes, Mellieħa surprised their opponents with an influential 16-0 run which moved the score to 74-50 with only one quarter to go.
The reaction from Depiro was not forthcoming and the game was being decided in Mellieħa’s favour.
The latter also closed off their positive second-half performance with a massive 22-0 final streak with Wrigthen continuing to score and ending with 34 personal points.
Mellieħa: M. Falzon, V. Jandric 22, N. Vasovic 15, I. Bonett 8, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 10, J. Joyner 2, M. Azzopardi, CJ Cordina 15, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 34.
Depiro: S. Galea, B. Nel, A. Attard, N. Grech 14, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 13, M. Brincat 5, M. Mallia 11, A. Oriakhi 14, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella, T. Reese
Referees: D. Torok, F. Ciurariu, V. Nikolic.