After Tuesday’s 73-71 win against highly quoted Azerbaijan in Group A of the FIBA Small Countries Games at the Ta’ Qali pavilion, Malta will be hoping for a similar atmosphere and another win, this time against Andorra (tip-off: 18.30).
Coach Alan Walls, heading into his second game in charge of the Malta National Team showed strength as Malta beat the tough Azeri triples, as well as the prowess of star player Jordan Davis, even without the injured Aaron Falzon.
“We have adopted the nickname of the ‘Malta Tall Knights’ because throughout history the knights have defended this land and during this tournament, we have defended our homeland,” Walls said in his post-game comments.
“Azerbaijan gave us a really good game and when we got down, we didn’t stay down, we stayed positive and backed each other up.
“David (Bugeja), our captain, made some big shots at the end and Sam (Deguara) had a really good second half for us and we showed that Maltese fighting spirit to never give up. We also fed off the energy from the crowd – it was an amazing crowd and we hope that we have even more on Thursday which is an even more important game – if we don’t take care of business on Thursday, tonight’s win doesn’t mean anything.”
Team captain David Bugeja was one of the heroes of the night on Tuesday, as were Sam Deguara and Nathan Xuereb, who pushed Malta ahead in the late periods of the game to secure the win. Speaking to the Times of Malta, Bugeja lauded the Azeris but believes that unity in the Maltese squad was the element that brought about the win.
“Azerbaijan are a very strong team, with a lot of experience and their average height is enormous. They’ve got their Number 20 (Davis) who’s amazing, next-level type player but with our team defence, especially from Kurt Xuereb, we held our own,” Bugeja said.
“Unfortunately, we lost Aaron (Falzon) during the warm-up to a calf strain and we felt this loss even though we started off very well – in reality, he is our main scorer. We hope that if not Thursday, by Saturday he will be back on the roster.
“Other than that, we showed we are Maltese and that we are a team that plays until the last second. The result is as it is because we were united as a team and we took good decisions. However, even though we won this one, in reality, this means nothing if we don’t win on Thursday and go top of the group.”
Bugeja, who put up 18 points had special praise for the home crowd on Tuesday.
“It’s a new court and nearly after two years of a pandemic it barely saw anyone, so when we saw all those Maltese people supporting us, as they did all game long, for us it was something that every player wishes to experience,” he explained.
“It was a really nice atmosphere, especially in the way we won. We felt like we were united not only as a team, but as the whole court.”