(13-22, 15-15, 26-18, 16-17)
Malta won qualification to the FIBA Small Countries Games semifinals with a last-second three-pointer from Tevin Falzon for a 72-70 win after what had been an intense fixture between two sides fighting for the top spot in Group A.
While Malta won all but the third quarter, Andorra took a late lead and it was only Falzon’s shot from beyond the arc at the buzzer that saved Malta from conceding the game.
Leading the game in scoring was once again Malta’s Samuel Deguara with 25 points, as David Bugeja added 17, Nelson Kahler scored 11, and Nathan Xuereb another 10. For Andorra, Guillem Colom and Bruno Bartolome both scored 20 with Josep Fernandez adding 10.
Malta started the game with Xuereb, Bugeja, Tevin Falzon, Kahler, and Deguara in the first five. For Andorra, the starting five were Bartolome, Colom, Cinto Gabriel, Sergi Balletbo and Fernandez.
Deguara won the tip for Malta, also putting in the first basket of the game before Andorra’s Fernandez responded with an immediate equaliser.
Bugeja scored the game’s first three soon after to start a positive Malta run. On the other end, vital defensive efforts by Kahler and Xuereb held Andorra away. This eventually led to a Malta 10-0 run until Fernandez scored Andorra’s second make of the evening.
Colom added three points with an and-one play but makes by Falzon and Deguara continued to add to Malta’s lead to finish the quarter up by nine points.
Andorra began to push in the second quarter, bringing the deficit down to three as Malta struggled to make their shots. The reintroduction of Deguara and an and-one by Kahler brought Malta back to life.
The crowd went wild as Kahler connected to a Bugeja alley-oop pass to send Malta up by 12 with two minutes to go in the half. Colom was the only threat for the Andorrans at that point, hitting two three-balls to bring it back to single digits. But Bugeja once again had the final say of the half with the last score.
The third quarter had a more defensive opening for both sides before Bartolome put up a three-ball for Andorra with two minutes gone, while Fernandez and Serrato each added another in between a long-distance make from Bugeja to stop the run. The offensive accuracy shown by Bartolome and Colome brought the game to level terms with more threes as Malta began to struggle to contain them.
Andorra took the lead for the first time in the game through Bartolome before Guzman opened a seven-point gap with two consecutive makes.
Xuereb spoiled their run with a solo effort after a misplaced pass ending in an and-one play, while Deguara finished twice from under the rim as Malta was back level at 54 a-piece. Bugeja, as usual hit the last point from the line to end the half back on top.
An exciting finale was on the cards for the game’s fourth quarter, as both teams cancelled each other out with Malta on top by five and four minutes to go until the final buzzer.
Fernandez piled on the pressure with a three-pointer before Gabriel hit one of two from the line to make it a one-point game. Xuereb however, had other words when he hit a three of his own. Late on, Colom brought back the lead for Andorra with a long distance shot but when Deguara regained top spot with two freethrows, Bartolome hit a couple himself with only three seconds to go.
With close to all hope lost, Falzon called game when he put up a stunning corner three to win the game for Malta at the buzzer.
MALTA D. Bugeja 17, S. Deguara 25, T. Falzon 9, N. Kahler 11, N. Xuereb 10, M. Brincat, A. Felice Pace, I. Felice Pace, M. Scerri, K. Xuereb, J. Zammit.
ANDORRA B. Bartolome 20, J. Fernandez 10, C. Gabriel 7, A. Guzman 8, S. Balletbo 5, A. Blanquer, G. Colom 20, X. Isern, L. Calzada, D. Baez, M. Pegalajar, J. Serrato.