STARLITES FIJO 105
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 95
(30-27, 22-20, 31-26, 22-22)
Starlites FIJO opened a 2-0 lead in the 2023 best-of-five championship series when they added another victory to their 104-90 win in the first game three days prior on Sunday to now put all the pressure on Mellieha Libertas. The latter know well enough that they cannot succumb to another defeat if they want to keep their title hopes alive and extend the series to more than three games.
The game had a very balanced first half, with various lead changes but Starlites managed to open a double-digit lead in the third quarter which was then maintained in the final rubber although Mellieha remained a continuous threat.
The match had a sad incident early in the game when Starlites’ Matthew Scerri suffered a knee injury on a fast break play after less than two minutes of play, with his side already opening a 6-2 lead after a brace of quick hoops from Zekiah Owens (double-double with 26 points at 53%, 12 rebounds, four assists) and a Darius George mid-ranger whilst Nenad Bukva (eight rebounds, four assists) netted Mellieha’s first bucket in the game.
With Sebastian Valencia (double-double of 18 points and 14 boards) and Vukasin Jandric (45% shooting for 27 points and two assists) sharing a 6-0 run between them, the Northerners managed to achieve a tie.
Although Starlites momentarily regained a slender lead with the first offensive contributions from Alec Felice Pace (three assists) and Jacob Bates, Mellieha obtained a 7-0 streak which had them jump 24-21 ahead after a David Bugeja (game-high 11 assists) step back shot and Nikola Jovanovic scoring a trey followed shortly afterwards by a mid-ranger.
In the last moments of the initial quarter, Bates had nine consecutive personal points which helped his side to overturn the score again and close the first rubber 30-27 in the lead.
The second quarter was just like the first. Starlites had a slightly better start with their import trio getting the hoops, but Mellieha showed their best in the middle part of the period as they had another 6-0 run, this time all from Jandric’s hands.
George (59% shooting, six assists, and three blocks) came to Starlites’ rescue as with his side trailing with a minimal margin, he scored nine points which helped the Naxxar side to change ends 52-47 ahead.
The second half had a fast start. Robert Bonnici (five three-balls from six attempts) landed three treys for Mellieha but Owens’ hoops, together with three balls from George and Ian Felice Pace (six assists), and a Kurt Xuereb (four assists) hoop maintained Starlites small lead. Another George long-ranger moved his side to a 73-61 lead, yet Mellieha showed character and replied with an 8-0 run through Bugeja, Valencia, and Jandric to make it a 72-75 game with 72 seconds to go till the end of the third quarter.
However, Bates (double-double with 11 boards and 31 points with 72% accuracy including four of seven trey attempts) and Owens hit their opponents with a late 8-1 tally, and suddenly, with a quarter to go, Starlites again had a double-digit lead, 83-73.
The victors made a solid step when they managed to notch an 11-0 streak very early in the final period to open a maximum 94-77 advantage.
Mellieha tried their best to recover the lost ground but could not bring the deficit down to a single digit as Starlites neutralised all their efforts.
Unfortunately, after the game, tempers might have flared amidst the tension of the series leading to clashes in the dressing rooms area.
Game three will be played on Thursday as Starlites look for a second consecutive dominant title win after last season’s sweep over the same Mellieha.
Starlites FIJO: A. Felice Pace 8, Z. Owens 26, M. Attard 2, J. Bates 31, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri, R. Carabott 2, K. Xuereb 4, N. Sultana, D. George 27.
Mellieha Libertas: M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 11, R. Bonnici 16, V. Jandric 27, I. Bonett 5, N. Bukva 10, N. Jovanovic 8, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 18.
Referees: B. Vassallo, I. Simic, N. Azzopardi
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 90
STARLITES FIJO 104
(24-31, 24-31, 23-27, 19-15)
Mellieha Libertas: M. Falzon 1, D. Bugeja 9, R. Bonnici 16, V. Jandric 3, I. Bonett 10, N. Bukva 20, N. Jovanovic, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 31.
Starlites FIJO: A. Felice Pace 13, Z. Owens 23, M. Attard 22, J. Bates 7, I. Felice Pace 2, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 12, R. Carabott, K. Xuereb 1, N. Sultana, D. George 24.
Referees: D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic, F. Ciurariu
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