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Pressure mounts on BUPA Luxol, Gżira Athleta as Hibs make sure of play-off spot

Hibs player Peter Shoults (left) moves past Paul Attard. Photo: Wally Galea

Depiro 83

Starlites Naxxar 87

(24-26, 24-17, 21-18, 14-26)

Starlites Naxxar, who are already guaranteed a play-off spot, had to dig deep to register their third league win over Depiro.

Aware that a win would have increased significantly their chances of a play-off spot, Depiro had a very sprightly performance and even enjoyed a consistent lead in the middle quarter of the encounter and then shared the spoils in the final rubber with the result fully in doubt right up to the very end.

The Naxxar side were buoyed by an in-form Alec Felice Pace who whizzed past Depiro’s defence with ease throughout the game whilst Matthew Scerri had fine offensive moments especially in the second half.

The contribution from these two young locals added to the efforts from Starlites’ trio Jamiah Windom Haynes, Myles Thomas and Jacob Bates.

Depiro set off on a strong note with three treys, a brace from Miguel Mallia and the other from Sean Galea only for Starlites to hit back with a 12-0 run to jump ahead in the lead.

TJ Atwood and Avery Sullivan started taking most of the offensive responsibility for the Mtarfa side as they again reduced the margin to a mere basket, 24-26, by the end of the first quarter.

Three balls from Atwood, Andy Attard and Nicholas Grech helped Depiro to level the score late in the second quarter and then also managed a slender 48-43 lead at the interval.

The start of the second half had Depiro showing more focus as they extended their lead to 61-53 and with both sides missing some free throws it was still an eight-point game, 69-61, with one quarter to go.

Scerri and Thomas combined for 11 quick early fourth quarter points as Starlites managed to regain, albeit momentarily, the lead.

Atwood and Attard replied at the other end but Felice Pace was still on song and spearheaded his team with eight back-to-back points – 82-78.

Sullivan was fouled on two plays and banged in free-throws and then Starlites’ Thomas and Depiro’s Galea neutralised each other’s hoop.

Seconds to the end, it was a one-point game and Depiro missed the opportunity to overturn the score when they did not find the mark on two free throws. They were made to pay for this as Windom Haynes grabbed Starlites’ last points which ascertained their tenth league win and now look forward to Thursday’s Shield final against Hibs.

Depiro: S. Galea 7, A. Attard 10, N. Grech 9, S. Vella, TJ Attwood 30, M. Mallia 8, A. Sullivan 17, M. Baldacchino, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella, L. Attard.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 26, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 7, M. Fabri 3, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 13, J. Bates 13, L. Farrugia 4, K. Xuereb, J. Haynes 6, M. Thomas 15.   

Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic.

Hibernians 113

BUPA Luxol 104

(aet; 29-27, 16-19, 20-16, 26-29, 22-13)

The power of the free-throw was evident in this overtime high-scoring game with both sides missing a number of attempts in regular time which ended at par – 91-91.

Hibs, who eventually ended up winning, missed 10 shots from the charity line in the first four quarters whilst BUPA Luxol missed nine, eight of them in the final quarter where they could also have closed the game.

The Paolites set off on a high note with Christian Soderholm and Mason Vires combining for 7-0. Hibs managed to maintain that margin until the late stages of the first quarter when William Claiborne’s big physical presence and Canaan Coffey’s shots helped Luxol to a 19-all score.

Treys from Matthew Attard and Keith Dimech kept Hibs marginally ahead until Ivan Demcesen’s first hoop made it a 29-27 first-quarter score.

Luxol overtuned the score after a mid-second quarter 7-0 streak only for Hibs to hit back immediately through Peter Shoults and Soderholm/Vires tandem.

It was still an even match and Stefan Capello’s mid-range jumper helped the Violets to just pip their opponents for 46-45 at half-time.

A brace of hoops from Jean Paul Schembri and Claboirne respectively led Luxol to an eight-point run for 57-49 after five minutes of the second half. But a time-out helped Hibs to get back on track as they came back with a 16-3 run with their three imports notching all these points.

Hibs’ lead extended to 69-62 very early in the fourth quarter after a Dimech jumper.

Luxol’s morale upped after back-to-back threeballs from Paul Attard and then they also managed to regain the lead after a positive sixth minute where they outscored Hibs 7-0. Capello and Coffey added to their lead yet this could have increased further but free throws started to be missed.

With time running out Luke Farrugia was inspirational for Hibs as they again came at par with Luxol grabbing a quick brace of hoops to give them a small edge.

In the closing minute they twice had the opportunity to open a four-point lead but missed from the charity line so that Dimech scored a quasi long distance jumper which had Hibs thinking they won the game but the shot was deemed a two-pointer so the game went into overtime.

Vires set off Hibs on a good note in the five added minutes with Luxol losing Claiborne and Capello on fouls.

A Dimech trey had Hibs pass the century mark and many thought it was the decisive basket to close the game but Luxol had other plans as they staged a comeback with a series of scored free throws to again take the lead at 104-103.

From then on Hibs were the only team to notch points as they closed the game in a definite manner with 11 straight points and also ascertain a place in the play-offs.

On the other hand, this loss piles a lot of pressure on Luxol who now are three games behind the fourth spot and with only four games to go till the end of the regular season, time is running out.

Hibs: M. Vires 22, N. Cassar, L. Farrugia 6, K. Dimech 19, A. Axiaq 5, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 5, C. Soderholm 35, I. Demcesen 13, P. Shoults 8.

Luxol: J. Cefai 8, P. Attard 11, JP Schembri 11, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, C. Coffey 26, S. Opojevlic, M. Matijevic, S. Cappello 14, W. Claiborne 34.  

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

Mellieħa Libertas Spalding 101

Gżira Athleta 82

(17-19, 30-12, 21-30, 33-21)

Mellieha Libertas Spalding registered an important victory over direct playoff contenders Gzira Athleta. This win opened, for the northerners, a two-game margin from the same Gzira as they also joined Depiro on 16 points.

Gżira had to do without the services of Shawn Montague for this key game and, similar to Luxol, are now under pressure in their quest for a play-off spot. Their last win, incidentally against Mellieħa, now goes back to early December.

The first quarter was evenly matched with Gżira’s young locals teaming well up with Zachary Hudson as they also had an early 15-7 lead with Francesco Mifsud Bonnivi getting seven of these points.

Mellieħa reduced the gap significantly by the end of the first rubber after four buckets from Austin Wrighten and a Malik Colvin Sheldon close-range hoop sandwiched in between.

The game took a significant twist in the latter parts of the second quarter when Mellieħa showed superior finishing and registered a massive 24-3 run.

Gżira were now facing a double-digit deficit at half-time, 31-47, but they did not throw in the towel as they upped their game.

Mellieħa looked a bit complacent, and suddenly it was back to an open 55-59 game twelve minutes form the end after three balls from Hudson and Matthew Gouder.

Low post area baskets from Colvin Sheldon gave some fresh impetus to Mellieħa but Gżira were still fighting on and Nathan Xuereb, with two-long distance shots, kept them well in contention.

A double-digit margin once again appeared early in the last quarter after a couple of Wrighten plays forcing Gzira to a time out.

However, the game took a final definite turn when Mellieħa had a 9-2 run to move 91-75 ahead with two minutes to go as Gżira’s Gouder and Mellieħa’s Nenad Buvka got their marching orders after an altercation on the court.

In the dying seconds, Mellieħa registered their century after three late hoops from Nikola Vasovic.

Mellieħa: V. Jandric 2, N. Vasovic 14, I. Bonett 2, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 8, M. Colvin Sheldon 34, M. Azzopardi 2, CJ Cordina 8, A. Wrighten 31.       

Athleta: Z. Hudson 22, F. Mifsud Bonnici 16, L. Stefanovic 7, N. Xuereb 17, M. Gouder 17, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, R. Abela, B. Zammit 3.

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

Standings: Starlites Naxxar 10/1 (21); Hibs 8/3 (19); Depiro, Mellieħa Libertas Splading 5/6 (16); Gzira Athleta 3/8 (14); BUPA Luxol 2/9 (13).

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