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Mellieħa, Starlites race to victory under new format in MBA Shield

Group A

Mellieħa Libertas         76

Depiro              66

(27-28, 29-25, 20-13 – game ended in the 28th minute)

Mellieħa Libertas registered the first win in this season’s Shield competition and also the first win using the 75-point win threshold criteria which is being adopted for this same competition after the local clubs voted in favour, ahead of the season, to the proposal put forth.

From the outcome of the first weekend and the general criticism even by club representatives, it seems that this locally-adopted criteria, which is sort of a ‘poor man’s’ version of the Elam Ending format which is used in some exhibition games and temporary tournaments, has more negatives than positives.

This is the case especially when a high-scoring entertaining game has to be stopped abruptly even ahead of the end of the third quarter which is normally always played under an actual Elam Ending format.

One hopes that the coming weeks of this competition will demonstrate some benefits or else one may also revert back to normal regulation play at least for the post-group stage.

Depiro, making their first showing of the season, paraded two US import players, Kameron Rooks and Cameron Kornelius for this game.

California native Rooks is a 27-year old high towering centre who ended his collegiate career with San Diego State in the NCAA Division 1. The son of the late former NBA player Sean Rooks, Kameron played with Traunstein in the Bavarian Basketball League last season in Germany.

On the other hand, guard Kornelius is a 29-year-old Wichita, Kansas native who played with Missouri Southern State in the NVAA Division 2 and lately, before the COVID-19 outbreak, donned the colours of Focsani in the Romanian First Division.

The game immediately showed glimpses that it was going to be a high-scoring contest as both sides started replying continuously to each other.

Mellieħa took the early marginal leads as they had initial buckets from Connor Zinaich and Vukasin Jandric and then an Isaac Bonett hoop made it 17-12.

Depiro, who had set off with a Miguel Brincat trey, then had a positive 10-2 run which gave them the first lead as Cornelius and Rooks shared the buckets. The latter duo ended sharing 42 of their side’s points tally in the game.

A Nikola Jovanovic long-ranger put Libertas again in front, albeit very momentarily, deep in the first quarter until a late Andy Attard threeball made it 28-27 for Depiro, who had their new playcaller Brian Semonian making his debut, at the end of the first rubber.

Points were again aplentiful in the second quarter which was essentially a replication of the first rubber.

The lead changed hands only once, 43-40 for Mellieħa after they netted three consecutive treys from Jovanovic, Bonett and Nenad Bukva and then the northerners managed to neutralise all Depiro’s efforts, mainly from Cornelius and Rooks, with Zinaich distinguishing himself with a mix of jumpers and penetration plays for a crowd-pleasing 56-53 half-time scoreline.

Two Brincat hoops made it a tight 60-59 game early after the interval but here Mellieħa surprised their opponents with a 13-2 streak with David Bugeja and Jandric adding to their points tally whilst, at the opposite end, Cornelius sank a trey.

This high-scoring and open game, dreadfully, had to come to an official end, when Jandric sank a bucket for his side’s 76th point with 12 minutes remaining from regulation time.

Mellieħa: S. Zammit, M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 14, V. Jandric 11, I. Bonett 8, N. Bukva 7, N. Jovanovic 8, C. Zinaich 28, M. Formosa.

Depiro:  N. Bastian 6, A.Aquilina 2, N. Grech 1, A. Attard 6, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 19, M. Brincat 9, M. Mallia, C. Kornelius 23, M. Debattista.

Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi.

Group B

Starlites Fijo   76

BUPA Luxol     67

(19-14, 21-19, 22-20, 14-14 – game ended in the 36th minute)

The 75-point win threshold was also reached prior to normal regulation time in this game which had Starlites making their second seasonal appearance, after last week’s Super Cup success, whilst Luxol were making their season debut.

A Matthew Attard trey followed by a Darius George bucket opened the game in Starlites’ favour.

But Luxol, making their seasonal debut, quickly came back at par with Tyler Mattos’ first bucket locally and a Jean Paul Schembri trey.

Luxol fielded two US import players. One is the 22-year old centre Mattos, born in Sutton, who closed his college experience with two seasons with the New Hampshire Wildcats in the NCAA Division 1 after featuring for the Bowling Green State University in the previous two years.

Trevian Bell, from Joliet Illinois, is the other Luxol import player. The 24-year-old guard ended his college career with the Lewis Flyers in the NCAA Division 2 after three years with the Green Bay Phoenix.

A 10-2 run helped Starlites to another early lead at 17-9 after Darius George added to an initial Alec Felice Pace threeball.

Naxxar’s lead went up to double digits early in the second quarter as Melvin Newbern added to more buckets from Attard and skipper Felice Pace for a 32-19 score.

Luxol showed their mettle at this juncture with a 10-2 streak which put them back in the game with the Bell/Mattos duo spearheading the Violets’ comeback.

The two sides went in for the interval break seven points apart, 40-33, but a strong opening by Luxol and an eight-point run, with the returning Nikola Vasovic netting a trey, made it a tight one-point game at 42-41 and it was still head-to-head minutes later at 51-49.

Here Starlites had Felice Pace on song and nine consecutive points again gave them a small upper hand and a double-digit lead.

Luxol made another bold attempt to reopen the game early in the last quarter as they gnawed the deficit down to three points, 62-65.

Yet Starlites’ reply, with a 5-0 streak, had them very close to the 75-point target criteria for this competition, a threshold which was reached after an Ian Felice Pace three-pointer thus having both teams leave the court prematurely, as opposed to regulation time, when the game could have easily offered more entertainment and interesting plays.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 24, M. Attard 9, M. Newbern 14, I. Felice Pace 5, A. Azzopardi, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 2, R. Carabott 2, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb, N. Sultana, D. George 20.

Luxol: J. Cefai 3, N. Vasovic 10, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 19, JP Schembri 4, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, J. Pace Debono, T. Mattos 27, M. Matijevic 2, S. Cappello 2.

Referees: D. Torok, I. Simic, V. Nikolic.

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