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Regular season ends on sour note as play-off pairings are decided

The Malta Basketball Association has opened an investigation over the match between Hibs and Depiro. Photo: Wally Galea

The BOV Men Regular League phase came to a close in the past weekend with game day 15 resulting in wins for league leaders Starlites Naxxar and fifth-placed BUPA Luxol in the first two encounters.

The last encounter on the schedule between Depiro and Hibs had a very sad and sour ending as with the score 69-68 for Depiro and over six and a half minutes to go, which is quite a lengthy section in a game, both sides opted not to play these last minutes according to the spirit of the game.

For the rest of the game, which ended also with an own basket attempt (which still would not have been validated) and a, probably, first-ever offensive shot block, neither side registered any score whatsoever whilst committing
numerous turnovers, careless shooting and blatant violations.

The Malta Basketball Association launched an immediate investigation for match-fixing on this game which, unfortunately, has also been featured with video footage on some international media platforms where it was termed ‘scandalous’ and a ‘sporting disaster’.

With the end results as they stand, the post season play-off pairings were decided with the regular season winners Starlites Naxxar facing Mellieħa Libertas.

Hibs and Depiro, third with an advantage in the direct encounters with Mellieħa, will fight out the other semi-final series on the best of three games.

Incidentally, Starlites faced Mellieħa Libertas on the last day and this game could have even gone to overtime as Mellieha had a very late three-point attempt that danced on the ring to the relief of Starlites who had enjoyed the lead, even a double-digit one, for a good part of the game only for the northerners to make a comeback in the last quarter.

A Myles Thomas trey followed by hoops from Jacob Bates and Kurt Xuereb put Starlites ahead early in the game but Mellieħa managed to bring the game at par 11-11 after a brace of Mirco Azzopardi three pointers.

A 15-3 run in the second quarter helped the Naxxar side to reopen a positive buffer as buckets from Jamiah Haynes and Xuereb added to three-balls from Thomas, Adam Azzopardi and Ian Felice Pace for a 35-18 score line.

This margin was maintained right up to the interval as both sides changed ends at 43-27.

A mid third quarter 9-0 Mellieħa streak upped their morale with Malik Seldon and Nenad Bukva getting most of the points at this point. Yet, Starlites managed to react shortly afterwards with three back-to-back treys off Haynes and a brace of such long-distance shots from Matthew Scerri.

With the game moving into the last quarter, it seemed like Starlites were moving to a tranquil win but Mellieħa, who would have automatically ended third in the standings with a win, had other thoughts. Nine points on the trot, five off Nikola Vasovic, made it a momentary four point game, 59-63 with seven minutes to go.

The game was now wide open and an Austin Wrighten bucket, two minutes from the final buzzer, reduced the gap to a single hoop, 68-70.

Scerri’s trey at the opposite end was beneficial for Starlites yet Mellieħa did not let go and were still in the running even if they messed a late offense with a very quick three-point attempt.

However, Starlites turned the ball over in the very last seconds and Mellieħa had an attempt right on the buzzer just falling short from forcing the game into overtime.

BUPA Luxol and Gzira Athleta bid adieu to the 2021-22 season when they played their respective last game of the season. Athleta presented a fully local side as their last import player, Zachary Hudson, left the islands a week before similar to Shawn Montague some time earlier.

Towering over all the opposition, Luxol’s centre William Claiborne had a field day and managed to use his clear height and physical advantage well enough to amass a grand 65 personal point tally in this very open game.

Jean Paul Schembri added a poker of treys in the high scoring first half as Luxol opened a 59-40 interval lead.

At the other end, Luca Stefanovic was notching a number of long-range hoops and was later joined by Matthew Gouder.

The third quarter was a bit more balanced even if Luxol were never in danger.

Athleta had contributions from their regulars Nathan Xuereb and Francesco Mifsud Bonnici with youngsters Ryan Abela and Isaac Xuereb also finding space to grab some hoops.

As for Luxol, Claiborne continued dominating the boards assisted by fellow zone players Marko Matijevic and Stefan Capello.

A fourth quarter 19-2 run further distanced the two sides apart from also leading Luxol to the century mark after an Alessio Trapani trey.

The last minutes of the game were a formality as both sides will now return to the drawing board and start thinking ahead for next season where they will hope to achieve more success.

Starlites Naxxar 75
Mellieħa Libertas 72
(15-11, 28-16, 18-21, 14-24)

Starlites: A. Felice Pace, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi 9, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 9, J. Bates 13, K. Xuereb 8, J. Haynes 19, M. Thomas 12.
Mellieha: A. Wrighten 12, M. Falzon, V. Jandric 6, N. Vasovic 13, I. Bonett 2, M. Seldon 17, N. Bukva 14, C. Briffa, M. Azzopardi 8, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini.
Referees: B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu.

Gżira Athleta 80
BUPA Luxol 118
(19-30, 21-29, 22-28, 18-31)

Athleta: J. Caruana 3, F. Mifsud Bonnici 8, L. Stefanovic 23, N. Xuereb 10, M. Gouder 11, I. Xuereb 13, R. Abela 4, B. Zammit 8.
Luxol: J. Cefai, M. Sciberras, N. Buhagiar 8, P. Attard 2, JP Schembri 15, A. Trapani 12, M. Matijevic 7, S. Cappello 9, W. Claiborne 65.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi, I. Ciurariu.

Depiro 69
Hibernians 68
(23-21, 14-18, 25-21, 7-8)

Depiro: S. Galea 4, J. Micallef 7, L. Attard 5, A. Attard 9, N. Grech 7, S. Kenely 8, M. Brincat 10, M. Mallia, M. Debattista 4, L. Vella 3, Q. Campbell 12.
Hibs: N. Cassar 11, M. Vucinic, L. Farrugia 9, K. Dimech 10, A. Axiaq 6, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 12, I. Demcesen 8, P. Shoults 12.
Referees: D. Torok, Z. Dogrosavljevic, K. Dworniczak.

Final standings: Starlites Naxxar (13/2) 28; Hibernians (10/5) 25; Depiro (7/8) 22; Mellieħa Libertas (7/8) 22; BUPA Luxol (5/10) 20; Gżira Athleta (3/12) 18.

BOV Men League Play-Offs semifinal series (best of three matches)

Starlites Naxxar vs Mellieha
Hibernians vs Depiro

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