Malta’s dramatic finish on Thursday against Andorra brought to an end a set of group A fixtures which saw Malta take the top spot and head directly into the semifinals of the FIBA Small Countries Games. On Saturday, Malta faces the winners of the first quarter-final – Azerbaijan – in a titanic clash that will send one team to the final against Armenia or Andorra.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, forward Nelson Kahler said the team needed to win as much as possible in order to gain that day’s rest before Saturday and Sunday.
“Our goal was to go 2-0 in these group games and ultimately get a day’s rest, so it was huge,” Kahler said.
“We had a few guys that played a lot of minutes so that extra day is massive. Whoever the opponent, we want to focus on what we do as team Malta and not so much on whatever everyone else does.”
Kahler was instrumental to Malta’s 72-70 win against Andorra, putting up a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Asked about the game on Thursday, the Sunshine Coast Phoenix forward lauded Andorra’s players and said this made it an even more prestigious win for Malta.
“All credit to Andorra, we knew they were going to be really tough. We knew how they played against Azerbaijan and I came down right to the wire,” he admitted.
“They’ve got a lot of really talented players. They’re a bit smaller than Azerbaijan but very skilled, playing that Spanish type of basketball. They were really comfortable with each other and they have a lot of really talented shooters who we tried to lock down. I think we did a good job in the first half, but coming out for the second half, they caught fire, so it was an awesome win for us. We made a few mistakes down the end, and costly turnovers and big shoutout to Tevin (Falzon) for making that massive shot.”
Hero of the night on Thursday Tevin Falzon remained humble after his buzzer-beating three sent the Ta’ Qali pavilion into ecstasy.
“It was a tough game – they were well-coached and well organised. They never shied away, and they always fought back,” he said of Andorra.
“We took the lead first and they took the lead late, so it was back and forth, and they put us in a tough position with three seconds left. It was a hard-fought game, we ended up with the last possession, I had a shot and we won.
“It was a good win – it’s good to win both group games to put us in a better position in the semifinals, but we have to win two more.”
Asked about the effect of his brother Aaron suffering an early injury on the game plan, Falzon said it was quite a setback as his presence was one that troubled other teams.
“(Aaron) is a scorer and has been a great scorer for the team so it’s definitely been a hit offensively,” he admitted.
“He’s a technical player who can bail you out of possessions. We’re having players double or triple-teaming Sam (Deguara) but Aaron draws a lot of attention too. Last year we didn’t have Sam and Andorra were doubling him instead.”
Ahead of the team’s game against Azerbaijan, Falzon believes they need to continue giving everything despite this being their third game together.
“There’s really no terrible teams in this tournament, and every game is going to be a hard-fought game and we have to continue to get better,” he explained.
“It’s only our second game playing together, we didn’t have any friendly matches so we’re still trying to work things out.
“We have to continue to play hard despite not playing well all the time offensively, Dave (Bugeja) and Nathan (Xuereb) have been playing some of the best basketball I’ve seen them play since I’ve been a member of the team so I’m really happy about that. Kurt (Xuereb)’s given a lot defensively, so we’ve got to continue giving everything, especially with my brother out. He’s taking it day by day and hopefully, he can return towards the end”