Game day 12 of the BOV Men League determined another playoff spot as Depiro made certain of playing in the post regular season to join Starlites and Hibs.
With three game days to go, the race is now on for the final spot and this tussle has increased in intensity after BUPA Luxol managed to beat Mellieħa and the northerners now can only rely on a two-game buffer over their rivals Gżira Athleta and Luxol.
Gżira Athleta 68
(15-20, 16-17, 16-21, 21-13)
This game had a series of twists and turns and could have gone, ultimately, either way as the lead even alternated in the final moments of the game.
Finally, Depiro got the important win which ascertained their play-off spot.
Shorn of the services of Nathan Xuereb, injured, and Matthew Gouder, suspended, Gżira Athleta shared the game at par with their opponents for 26 minutes but then fell behind after a Depiro 12-0 run.
However, Athleta showed character when they recouped their efforts for a good fourth quarter start which saw them claw back into the game and later even surging 68-67 ahead with slightly more than a minute to go till the end of the game.
Ġżira were still within reach seconds from the end but missed free throws did not help their cause as Avery Sulllivan put Depiro three points ahead.
Athleta still had the last possession but failed to convert.
It was a very balanced first quarter with Athleta having most of the lead through Zachary Hudson and Shawn Montague with the opposing American counterparts, TJ Atwood and Avery Sullivan, replying for the Mtarfa side.
Late threes from Nicholas Grech and Atwood helped Depiro go ahead and later a Sean Galea hop made it 28-18.
A Francesco Mifsud Bonnici and-one play brought Athleta closer for a while but Depiro again opened a slender lead after a Miguel Brincat early third quarter trey, 40-34.
Late in the same quarter, James Bamfield’s side had a game high 13-0 run as Depiro started the final quarter with a double-digit lead.
The game was, however, not over as Athleta reopened the encounter with two 8 point stretches in the final rubber with baskets also from Isaac Xuereb apart from the Hudson/Montague tandem for a marginal 68-67 lead.
A Sullivan close-range hoop and a free throw from two put Depiro back in front as Athleta went dry in the final stages.
Athleta: Z. Hudson 25, S. Montague 15, F. Mifsud Bonnici 10, L. Stefanovic 3, I. Xuereb 8, S. Vincic, J. Ransley 2, R. Abela, B. Zammit 5.
Depiro: S. Galea 8, A. Attard, N. Grech 7, TJ Attwood 18, M. Brincat 3, M. Mallia, A. Sullivan 33, M. Baldacchino, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella.
Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi.
Starlites Naxxar 83
(23-17, 27-25, 19-21, 14-30)
Jacob Bates and Jamiah Windom Haynes set Starlites off to an early 7-0 lead only to have replies, at the other end, from Hibs US duo Mason Vires and Christian Soderholm.
Another 7-0 run helped the league leaders to distance themselves again and a later Ian Felice Pace trey made it 21-13.
After Hibs started the second quarter with missed free throws, Starlites managed to open a game high lead of 32-17 after another good patch, this time nine points on the trot with Myles Thomas starting this run to
be followed by skipper Alec Felice Pace and young bench players Miguel Fabri and Adam Azzopardi.
In this match, Starlites’ coach Paul Ferrante took the opportunity to give ample game time to his non-regular starting five.
Both sides had absences with Hibs doing without the injured Peter Shoults and David Bugeja still in quarantine. Kurt Xuereb was not utilised by Starlites.
The double-digit gap between the two sides remained for four minutes until Hibs got their first major game streak with a 10-0 stretch including treys from Keith Dimech and Matthew Attard.
However long-distance shots from Bates and a brace, including a half-time buzzer beater, from Matthew Scerri helped Starlites to have a 50-42 interval lead.
The tempo did not change in the first part of the third rubber as Starlites once again extended their lead to double digits, 64-50, after more treys from Bates and Scerri.
Soderholm, who was just a trey short of a 40-point game, brought back Hibs into contention as his points helped the Paolites to a ten-point roll.
But Starlites kept their noses in front 69-63, with one quarter to go, after Fabri notched a brace of hoops.
After bringing the game, momentarily, at par 71-71 with a three ball, Vires was disqualified on a summation of major fouls and Starlites initially reacted to move 80-74 ahead.
But here, Hibs managed to overturn the score as they embarked on a 10-0 run with Soderholm and Ivan Demcesen making most of the damage under the Starlites’ boards.
The game was open but when Starlites missed the opportunity to bridge the deficit after three consecutive missed free throws, Hibs made sure of the win with late hoops from Soderholm and Attard.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 2, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi 6, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri 10, L. Riolo 1, M. Scerri 10, J. Bates 26, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb, J. Haynes 8, M. Thomas 12.
Hibs: M. Vires 24, N. Cassar, M. Vucinic, L. Farrugia 2, K. Dimech 7, A. Axiaq 5, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 9, C. Soderholm 37, I. Demcesen 9.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, I. Ciurariu.
BUPA Luxol 92
Mellieħa Libertas 75
(28-20, 18-20, 23-15, 23-20)
A positive stretch in the second part of the third quarter paved the way for BUPA Luxol to open a healthy lead over Mellieħa Libertas Spalding. The Violets then managed to administer this margin to land a very important win in their quest for a final play-off spot.
This is Luxol’s second league win over Mellieħa, thereby giving them an automatic advantage if they had to finish on equal points on the league ladder at the end of the regular season.
Yet there are still three game days to go and the race is now quite wide open with three sides vying eagerly for the last remaining playoff spot, Luxol, Gżira Athleta and Mellieħa.
The latter have a clear positive buffer at the moment, being two games ahead of the other two teams, but nothing is certain until the final buzzer.
The northerners got off to a sprightly start as Malik Colvin Sheldon and Austin Wrighten led to a 7-2 lead.
Luxol managed to bring the game at par as Canaan Coffey was finding his positive range and shortly afterwards a 10-0 streak had them enjoying a 25-18 lead.
Coffey had a hot hand in this game ending with an impressive 46 personal point tally.
With William Claiborne netting close range hoops, Luxol managed to maintain a double-digit lead for a number of minutes even if three-balls from Nikola Vasovic and Christian Julian Cordina momentarily gave new hope to Mellieħa.
Shortly after the half time interval, points off Colvin Sheldon and Mirko Azzopardi put the game wide open as Mellieħa, who are having also limited contribution from Vukasin Jandric in the last games, came to just a mere point away, 51-52.
Luxol managed to steer away from Mellieħa late in the third quarter as they registered a vital 18-2 run which put them comfortably 73-55 ahead.
Apart from the Claiborne/ Coffey tandem, there were two long-distance shots from Jean Paul Schembri.
Pressure was now on Mellieħa and even if they did try to recover, Luxol managed to control their nerves and a final 6-0 late rally made sure of their win.
Luxol: J. Cefai 2, P. Attard 2, JP Schembri 8, A. Trapani, C. Coffey 46, S. Opojevlic 2, S. Cappello 9, W. Claiborne 23.
MellieĦa: M. Falzon 1, V. Jandric 2, N. Vasovic 5, I. Bonett, M. Colvin-Seldon 30, M. Azzopardi 11, CJ Cordina 4, N. Sultana, A. Wrighten 22.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu, F. Ciurariu