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League pacesetters falter as Starlites, Mellieha fall to defeat

Depiro pushed past Mellieħa Libertas for their third win of the season. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The sixth game day of the BOV League resulted in defeats for the two sides who are leading the standings.

In fact, in the first game on the schedule, leaders and reigning champions Starlites FIJO suffered their first setback this season when they were beaten by a very staunch Gżira Athleta side who now moved up to the third place.

Mellieħa Libertas missed the chance to join Starlites at the top as they were beaten by Depiro. The latter are now also putting pressure on the fourth-placed team, BUPA Luxol who beat Hibs quite handsomely and still enjoy a two point buffer in the standings.

Gżira Athleta 97
Starlites FIJO 89
(29-23, 14-20, 23-23, 31-23)

Reigning champions Starlites FIJO’s unbeaten league streak came to an end against a resolute Gżira Athleta side inspired by Roland Griffin’s hot offensive hand, as they now move to three wins from six games.

Starlites raced to a very early and game high 13-3 lead with hoops from their US duo Darius George and Jordan Notch and the brothers Alec and Ian Felice Pace.

At the other end, Luca Stefanovic had a positive offensive first quarter, with 11 points and three long rangers, and back-to-back treys brought Gzira Athleta quickly back into contention.

Midway through the first quarter, Griffin netted his first bucket of the day where he then continued to gradually find his way through the Starlites’ defence to eventually end up with an impressive 52-personal point tally.

It was still a tight game till the closing stages of the first quarter until a very late 8-0 run by Athleta, through treys from Stefanovic and Nathan Xuereb and a Griffin hoop, put the victors 29-23 ahead.

When play resumed, Starlites quickly overturned the deficit with a 10-2 streak set off by a Matthew Scerri basket followed by the first of three three-balls by Matthew Attard on the day.

However, this quarter resulted in the least points generated of the four from both sides. Parity was again quickly restored, and, in fact, the interval buzzer sounded with the two sides at par, 43-a-piece.

After the teams changed ends following the break, parity was again evident when Athleta and Starlites equally shared 46 points in the third quarter to go into the final quarter locked at 66-66.

George was quite active under the Athleta boards and was influential to help Starlites keep a marginal lead in the first part of the second half.

However, Griffin continued stinging his opponents and assisted by a brace of tap-ins from Jordan Ellul Dowling and a trey from Nazzareno Buhagiar, Athleta managed to also pip slightly ahead early in the final rubber.

The game had a small twist when Athleta registered an eight-point run to move 81-73 ahead. Under pressure, Starlites now tried hard to recover the deficit but their treys from George, Attard and Notch were neutralised by Griffin’s persistent penetrations and Xuereb’s buckets for 94-86.

Here, with just over two minutes to go till the final buzzer, Athleta lost Griffin to two major fouls. But despite Starlites’ final press, Athleta were not to be outdone and concluding free throws from Stefanovic and Xuereb sealed their win.

GZIRA ATHLETA: N. Buhagiar 3, L. Stefanovic 16, J. Ellul Dowling 6, N. Xuereb 17, R. Griffen 52, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, R. Abela, B. Zammit 3.
STARLITES FIJO: A. Felice Pace 14, M. Attard 14, I. Felice Pace 3, M. Fabri 3, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 4, R. Carabott 3, L. Farrugia 2, N. Sultana, D. George 33, J. Notch 13.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, I. Ciurariu.

Mellieħa Libertas 86
Depiro 93
(18-22, 19-31, 25-17, 24-23)

Mellieħa Libertas seemed to be setting off on a high after going 6-0 ahead through Vukasin Jandric and Robert Bonnici.

But they were then hit with a 16-5 run at their defensive end with centre Kameron Rooks grabbing some close-range hoops and team-mates Cameron Cornelius and Miguel Brincat adding others from further distance.

Although Mellieħa recovered to even force a slender lead change at 18-17 after Connor Zinaich’s first points, the first quarter’s buzzer arrived with Depiro again enjoying a slender advantage at 22-18.

Uniformity continued to reign for the first part of the second quarter with the two sides at each other’s heels for a tight
30-28 score in Depiro’s favour.

From here until the halftime buzzer, the Mtarfa side made a very influential and important run as they outscored their opponents 23-9 to open a mid-game double-digit lead at 53-37.

Miguel Brincat banged in a tris of treys whilst captain Andrew Aquilina had a brace of similar long-range shots in this quarter. Cornelius steered the side from guard position and added a trey and a bucket from his end.

Still trailing with the same margin after five minutes inside the third quarter, Mellieħa started to up the tempo to try
and claw back into the game.

They did have a positive spurt by the end of the third rubber with a 15-5 run, mainly through Jandric, to reduce the deficit to a single digit at 62-70.

The game literally reopened halfway in the final quarter after an 11-point Libertas streak which made it a very tight and close one basket game with Depiro still hanging to a slender 79-77 lead.

Here Cornelius and Rooks combined for an important consecutive three-basket stretch which, once again, gave breathing space to Depiro.

Mellieħa tried to react once more but their efforts were foiled when Rooks converted an unsportsmanlike foul on a basket for a three-point play leaving too little time for the northerners to come closer.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS: M. Falzon 3, R. Bonnici 10, V. Jandric 33, I. Bonett 5, N. Bukva 9, N. Jovanovic, C. Zinaich 24, M. Formosa 2.
DEPIRO: D. Camilleri, A. Aquilina 12, N. Grech 7, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 29, M. Brincat 17, M. Mallia 5, C. Cornelius 21, J. Micallef, M. Debattista 2.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic, F. Ciurariu.

Hibernians 78
BUPA Luxol 98
(16-29, 15-24, 25-27, 22-18)

BUPA Luxol registered their second league success with an emphatic win over Hibernians.

The St Andrews side took off on a high note and when they opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run to move 37-18 ahead, it was quite clear that it was their day.

Their two US import players, Trevian Bell and Taylor Mattos, were on the mark as from the early stages of the game whilst Nikola Vasovic had a seasonal high. In fact, this trio shared an impressive 89 of the side’s 98 points between them.

Midway through the first quarter, a Stefan Cappello trey had Duncan Fenech’s clan 22-8 in the lead and this margin
increased to 19 points at the start of the second quarter.

Hibs could not find their rhythm as of lately and were always trailing their opponents on this game which they need
to get over with as soon as possible.

Luxol kept on marching till the half-time break where they were enjoying a 53-31 lead.

Hibs did improve in the second half and managed to share the spoils with their opponents, although the latter were calmly in control of the game.

The Paolites had more consistency at the offensive end, mainly through Ivan Demcesen and Justin Bogle but Luxol’s high scoring trio did not falter neither after the change of ends to keep their side’s winning margin at bay.

There was no major change neither in the final quarter with Luxol moving towards cementing their victory and Hibs just managing to reduce a bit their final deficit with two Luke Farrugia treys close to the final buzzer.

Luxol came very close to the century mark but then opted to renounce their last possession.

HIBERNIANS: N. Cassar 5, P. Attard 3, R. Aquilina, L. Attard, L. Farrugia 9, L. Borg, A. Axiaq 8, M. Fall, M. Attard 4, J. Bogle 24, I. Demcesen 25, P. Shoults.
BUPA LUXOL: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic 30, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 33, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri 2, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 26, M. Matijevic, S. Cappello 7.
Referees: D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu.

Standings

Starlites FIJO (5/1) 11, Mellieħa Libertas (4/2) 10, Gżira Athleta (3/3) 9, BUPA Luxol (2/4) 8, Depiro (-3) (3/3) 6, Hibs (-3) (1/5) 4.

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