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Mellieħa stun Hibernians as Starlites Naxxar consolidate top spot

Mellieħa's Austin Wrighten (right) moves past Mason Vires. Photo: WALLY GALEA

The first game day of the new year and the eighth one of this league campaign offered three very close games which could have gone either way.

Starlites Naxxar consolidated their top spot in the standings and now are two games ahead of second-placed Hibs who had to bow down against a fighting Mellieħa Libertas Spalding side.

The northerners climbed into a shared third spot in the standings together with Depiro, who had to dig deep to take home a marginal win and overcome BUPA Luxol’s firm resistance.

Luxol, still waiting for their second professional import player to arrive, are now three games away from a play-off spot whilst Gżira Athleta are a solitary game behind.

BUPA LUXOL   70

DEPIRO            73

(9-20, 23-15, 21-16, 17-22)

The first-round match had ended with Depiro registering quite an easy 66-39 win but this time around all went down to the wire as the two sides had an equal chance for the win.

The Mtarfa side presented two new foreign imports, their fourth and fifth this season. Alex Oriakhi had already announced his departure after Depiro’s win over Gżira Athleta just before the Christmas break whilst Terrance Reese left during the break.

The new additions are 23-year-old Philadelphia-born Koby Thomas, who started the season playing in the Finnish league, and 22-year old Texas-born Avery Sullivan who plied his trade in Cyprus earlier this season.

Sullivan got the game’s first hoop and then added another brace of baskets as Depiro opened an early 20-9 lead

with Miguel Brincat nailing two threeballs after an earlier long distance shot from Nicholas Grech.

Luxol re-opened the game with a strong start to the second quarter with a 10-0 run led by their US guard Canaan Coffey and it was a tight one-point game 22-21 with four minutes to go to half-time.

Points off Thomas helped Depiro to momentarily distance themselves at 35-26 but Luxol managed to close the gap with six last-minute points including a Coffey three-pointer.

Treys from Jean Paul Schembri and Coffey as well as close range hoops from Stefan Capello managed to steer Luxol to their first lead half way into the third rubber 44-39.

The violets managed to maintain their advantage right until the end of the quarter despite Depiro’s efforts through TJ Atwood and Thomas.

The latter duo shared a 6-0 run, in the initial stages of the last quarter, to help their side take the upper edge again, albeit a marginal lead.

Missed free throws did not help either side at this juncture of the game and it was still an open game in the last minute.

A Marko Matijevic hoop was followed with a possible and-one play by Coffey but the free throw was missed for a 71-70 score for Depiro with only 15 seconds to go.

Thomas and Atwood then converted half of their four free throws to have Depiro three points away now with nine seconds to play.

Luxol called a time-out but could not convert a trey despite two attempts so that Depiro registered the double over their opponents.

LUXOL: J. Cefai 8, N. Buhagiar, P. Attard 7, JP Schembri 11, A. Trapani, C. Coffey 27, S. Opojevlic 2, M. Matijevic 3, S. Cappello 12.

DEPIRO: S. Galea 3, A. Attard, N. Grech 5, TJ Attwood 21, M. Brincat 12, M. Mallia, A. Sullivan 12, M. Debattista, L. Vella, K. Thomas 20.

Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu, F. Ciurariu.

Gżira Athleta  80

Starlites Naxxar           89

(15-18, 26-24, 18-18, 21-29)

Very little separated Gżira Athleta and Starlites who went tit-for-tat almost continuously throughout this encounter. The game was only decided in the very final stages with a last minute 7-2 Starlites streak which ascertained their seventh league success.

The Naxxar side opened strongly going 10-2 ahead after just three minutes with treys from Jacob Bates and Kurt Xuereb adding to the initial hoops from Myles Thomas and Alec Felice Pace.

However, Gżira Athleta started finding their rhythm as time went by with their US duo Shawn Montague and Zachary Hudson finding the right path to the opponents’ basket assisted by the hard work from Nathan Xuereb.

Seven straight points from Starlites’ Jamiah Windom Haynes helped them to an early second quarter 22-15 lead but the game was at-par midway in the same quarter following a brace of Xuereb hoops for 25-25.

Balance prevailed until the interval with Felice Pace grabbing nine consecutive points, including two threeballs for Starlites who then had a brace of Thomas and Bates hoops.

Yet all this was almost completely neutralized by the Montague/Hudson duo for a marginal Naxxar 42-41 half time lead.

The 36 third-quarter points were shared equally with the lead changing hands and all was to be decided in the final rubber which started with Starlites opening a 70-62 lead after a Xuereb trey following a Matthew Scerri and-one play.

Athleta were not undone and Hudson had points to make it a three-point game with five minutes to go.

Despite Thomas’ buckets for Naxxar, Athleta’s guard Luca Stefanovic had five back-to-back points and it was still 76-79 now with a minute to go.

Here, Thomas nailed an important trey and then Starlites netted five free-throws from six to open a decisive lead in the final seconds.

Athleta: Z. Hudson 23, S. Montague 28, F. Mifsud Bonnici 3, L. Stefanovic 5, N. Xuereb 12, M. Gouder 9, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, J. Ransley, J. Caruana, S. Manganiello, B. Zammit.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 15, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 3, J. Bates 13, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 14, J. Haynes 18, M. Thomas 20.   

Referees: B. Vassallo, D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic.

Mellieħa Libertas         83

Hibernians      78                             

(19-15, 12-25, 28-22, 24-16)

A game with various facets finally ended with Mellieħa Libertas taking home a win that may result important in their quest for a play-off spot.

Mellieħa got off to an encouraging start with their new American, the 25-year-old Cincinatti-born Malik Colvin Sheldon, who was last on the books of Mexico side Jaibos Tampico, netting the side’s first seven points.

Hibs’ US duo Mason Vires and Christian Soderholm tried to take Hibs ahead as they shared their side’s 15 first-quarter points but Mellieħa managed to stay in the lead with treys from Nik Vasovic and Isaac Bonett helping them on the way.

The Northerners’ lead extended to double digits early in the second quarter as Vukasin Jandric’s long-distance shot added to further Colvin Sheldon hoops.

A time-out helped Hibs to regain more confidence in their play and Ivan Demcesen’s entry on the court helped them significantly under both boards.

Then, a late 13-0 streak including a trio of three balls from Peter Shoults overturned the lead as Hibs went in a 40-31 ahead at the interval.

Although Soderholm gave Hibs the maximum lead with an early second-half hoop, Mellieħa upped their confidence when bencher Mirko Azzopardi nailed back-to-back treys.

For a few minutes, Hibs managed to still defend their lead but eventually another Azzopardi three-pointer followed by hoops from Colvin Sheldon and Austin Wrighten made it again a totally open game.

Vires and Soderholm seemed to re-establish Hibs upper edge with late baskets for a momentary 62-53 lead. But very late three pointers from Vasovic and Jandric and then an early last quarter trey from Azzopardi made it 62-62.

Hibs dried up for just over a minute whilst Mellieħa netted an important 8-0 run which helped them open a late lead which could not be neutralized by the Paolites.

Mellieħa: M. Falzon, V. Jandric 10, N. Vasovic 15, I. Bonett 5, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 4, M. Colvic-Seldon 25, M. Azzopardi 18, CJ Cordina, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 6.     

Hibs: M. Vires 12, N. Cassar, M. Vucinic, L. Farrugia, K. Dimech 5, A. Axiaq 2, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 5, C. Soderholm 22, I. Demcesen 19, P. Shoults 13.

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

Standings

Starlites Naxxar 15, Hibs 13, Depiro/Mellieha Libertas Spalding 12, Gżira Athleta 11, BUPA Luxol 9.

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