(19-15, 11-24, 18-23, 20-22)
Malta had to settle for a silver medal in this year’s FIBA Small Countries Games final as they fell to a free-scoring Armenia 68-84 on Sunday at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion.
It was a game of three-pointers versus points in the paint as Valencia guard Chris Jones, who won the Most Valuable Player award of the tournament, scored no less than eight threes, while Malta relied on the strength of Samuel Deguara and Nelson Kahler below the rim.
Malta’s roster saw the return of sharpshooter Aaron Falzon, who had been injured since the first game of the tournament against Azerbaijan. While still playing restricted minutes due to him not being yet fully fit, the Arcadia Traiskirchen Lions forward was a welcome return for the team.
Armenia’s Jones put up an enormous 41-point tally to lead the game in scoring, also grabbing 10 boards for a double-double. Andre Spight, also named in the all-star five of the tournament, scored 22. For Malta, Deguara led the team’s scoring with 27 points, Kahler added 17, and Nathan Xuereb scored 10 for his third double-digit game of the tournament.
Armenia took the first possession from the tip but went on to miss the first two shots of the game. David Bugeja made them pay with the first basket of the game. It was a Deguara block that lead to a fast break with Bugeja going from one end of the court to the other. Kahler added another with a dunk as Armenia began to miss their shots.
Malta went on a 10-0 run after a Xuereb triple as Malta contained Armenia’s threat. However, Jones made the first basket for Armenia when Deguara was adjudged to have goal tended with 4.43 to go in the first quarter.
Albert Tatevosyan, coming from a 10/16 from three-point land finish against Andorra in the semi-finals, scores his side’s first long-distance effort before Jones hit one himself with Malta leading by four.
Deguara opened the second quarter scoring as both sides refused to budge in defence. Falzon scored his second basket of the tournament, another three as Malta lead by nine, before Jones responded with a three of his own.
Triples from Jones, Tatevosyan, and Spight brought the score level at the midway point of the quarter. Eventually, Jones gives Armenia the lead with a solo effort and buckets from Davit Khachatryan and Spight made it a 10-point lead. However, Kahler, Xuereb efforts reduced the score back to single digits at the end of the half.
Jones opened the second half with another three as Armenia began to dominate. At that point, it was Jones and Spight who were making all the points for their team, the former having made half of Armenia’s points by the end of the third quarter while Deguara and Kahler took charge of Malta’s scoring.
The fourth quarter was do or die for Malta, yet with time running out, Armenia were 20 points ahead with further threes from Armenian players as every shot began to drop for the coach Rex Kalamian’s team.
The final minutes were a formality as both squads rotated before the final buzzer.
ALL-STAR FIVE: Chris jones (Armenia), Orhan Haciyeva (Azerbaijan), Andre Spight (Armenia), Guillem Colom (Andorra), Sam Deguara (Malta)
MVP: Chris Jones (Armenia)