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Wins for Gżira Athleta, Depiro as semi-final stage starts taking shape in MBA Shield

Gżira Athleta beat BUPA Luxol in a tight match last weekend. Photo: Jonathan Bugeja

GROUP A

BUPA Luxol      72

Gżira Athleta  75

(23-22, 18-25, 18-14, 13-14)

This close game did not go on until the final buzzer but ended almost two and a half minutes from time when Gżira Athleta netted a freethrow off their new import player Roland Griffin to reach the 75-point mark with BUPA Luxol just three points away at this juncture.

The latter will have surely hoped to play till the end of the regulation time as the result could have gone either way as matters were going on the court.

After falling short also in their opening game against Starlites last week, Luxol are thus out of the reckoning for a semi-final spot.

The remaining Group A game between Gżira Athleta and Starlites, both now certain of a spot in the post-group stage, will decide the group winner and a cross-over semifinal game with the second-placed team in Group B.

Athleta had the debut of the 25-year-old, Aurora, Illinois native, Roland Griffin. He ended his senior collegiate year, after a year’s sojourn, with Jackson State in the NCAA Division 1 in 2020.

Griffin’s first local game resulted in a 41-point tally, 28 of which in the first half including a full 13-0 point run which spearheaded Athleta to overturn a deficit into a 37-32 lead.

Gżira are reported to be also expecting a second import player in the coming days in their quest to bolster their side which is mainly built of young players.

On the other hand, Luxol again had a considerable contribution from their US tandem, centre Tayler Mattos and guard Trevian Bell with a combined total of 48 points in the game.

The encounter set off with early consecutive threeballs from Luca Stefanovic, Nathan Xuereb and Griffin which helped Athleta to an early 13-5 lead and forcing Luxol to an early timeout.

Luxol managed to regroup their efforts and managed to come at par, 20-20, and even take a marginal 23-22 advantage by the end of the first quarter,

The Violets continued on a positive stretch and a consecutive trey and hoop by Bell extended their lead to 32-24.

Here Gżira produced their best moment and, probably, the most influential moment of the game. They hit their opponents with 13 straight points, all off Griffin, to gain psychological strength on the court.

Although Luxol did stop their drought and even managed to, momentarily, forge ahead, a late Athleta 7-0 run, with Xuereb and Kenan Coloman adding to Griffin’s points, had them enter for the half-time break 47-41 ahead.

Gżira’s lead went into double figures, 59-48, midway in the third quarter yet an 11-2 Luxol reply made it a very tight 61-59 game with a quarter to go.

The game became more uncertain after instant lead changes in a minute with Luxol first managing to regain the lead after a Bell trey, only for Gżira to respond with an 8-0 run, including a Stefan Vincic threeball as they again forged 70-64 ahead.

Yet, there was to be more uncertainty as Luxol did not throw in the towel and came back within definite striking distance at 72-74.

But, despite this ambiguity on the court, the game ended with almost 140 seconds to what is normally regulation time, when Athleta scored their 75th point off a free-throw from Griffin.

Luxol: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic, M. Sciberras 7, T. Bell 27, JP Schembri 5, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, J. Pace Debono, T. Mattos 23, M. Matijevic 6, S. Cappello 4.

Athleta: M. Laferla, F. Mifsud Bonnici 6, N. Buhagiar, K. Coloman 8, L. Stefanovic 5, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 11, R. Griffin 41, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic 4, R. Abela, B. Zammit.

Referees: I. Simic, I. Ciurariu, F. Ciurariu.

GROUP B

Depiro             70

Hibernians      69

(25-17, 11-13, 18-27, 16-12)

For the first time this season in this competition, the full 40 minutes of regulation time were needed to decide the winners in this match which went head-to-head for the majority of the time and any team could have ended up winners at the final buzzer.

Even if maybe one of the main aims of the experimental outright 75-point format (which is quite different than the Elam ending format used mainly in exhibition games) is to have a game-winning shot, the excitement and uncertainty of a tight game around the final 40 minute buzzer fully outweigh anything in the game.

The feedback so far is that one hopes that possibly the clubs decide to have the semi-finals and final return to the normal regulation time format.

Hibs, who had a short bench due to suspensions from last season, presented their new

US import pro, the 25-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, Justin Bogle, who played one season in college basketball with Mid-America Christian University in 2019 and had eight games in the Georgia League in the 2019-20 season with Tskhum-Abkhazeti.

Matthew Attard and Paul Attard, the latter returned to donning Hibs’ colours after a season loan with Luxol, set off Hibs at 5-0 early in the game.

However, led by the US tandem, Cameron Cornelius and Kameron Rooks, Depiro replied within the next couple of minutes to overturn the deficit into a 9-6 lead.

The Mtarfa side kept the upper edge for the rest of the first quarter and increased their lead at 20-13 after local guards Andrew Aquilina and Andy Attard notched a couple of hoops.

On the other hand Hibs had their centre Ivan Demcesen concluding most of their offensive ploys at this stage.

The second quarter was a low-scoring one yet here Hibs’ Bogle started to find his offensive touch with nine points in the quarter to keep the Paolites close to Depiro, 36-30.

The tempo picked up considerably after the interval with the lead also changing hands several times in the third quarter.

Depiro’s US duo Cornelius/Rooks netted 17 of their side’s 18 points in this quarter and initially managed to maintain a small lead.

Yet Hibs got closer with treys from Matthew and Paul Attard and then a Demcesen close ranger put them 44-43 ahead.

Depiro did manage to regain a marginal lead for some more minutes. Yet a late Hibs surge, with two Bogle buckets, had them closing this quarter 57-54 ahead.

An early fourth quarter 8-0 run, off Bogle and Borg hoops, had Hibs open a 65-56 lead, thereby putting pressure on

Depiro with the game also close to the possible 75-point mark.

Two long-rangers from Cornelius helped Depiro to a comeback as they neutralised all the deficit and edged marginally 68-67 ahead with regulation time nearing its end.

Bogle lifted Hibs’ spirits with a jumper that put the Paolites one point ahead with seconds to go till the final buzzer, which finally was heard after four games in this competition, given that the previous three games had to end prematurely.

This happened even if at times, the game was entertaining and interesting for those present due to the 75-point game- winning format, voted in by the clubs to be adopted this season for the MBA Shield, and which has brought widespread criticism amongst the local basketball community,

Depiro played their last offence after a time out and just four ticks away from the game-ending horn, Cornelius got fouled on a penetration play and was awarded two free shots which he coolly converted.

Hibs’ new play caller, Silvio Cassar, called a last-ditch timeout to also move the ball in the front court but Hibs’ last attempt by Bogle failed to hit the mark.

That meant that the final buzzer had Depiro registering their first seasonal success and moved closer to a semifinal spot although one has to wait for the coming Mellieha vs Hibs encounter in this group.

Depiro: N. Bastjan 1, A. Aquilina 8, N. Grech 2, A. Attard 3, S. Kennely, K. Rooks 30, M. Brincat 2, M. Mallia 2, C. Cornelius 22, M. Debattista.

Hibs: G. Cassar 2, P. Attard 9, D. Brincat Dowdall, L. Attard, L. Borg 5, M. Attard 11, J. Bogle 26, M. Bezzina, I. Demcesen 16.

Referees: F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi, I, Ciurariu.

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