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Starlites stay perfect with late three-point winner

Starlites player Robert Bonnici goes for the basket against Hibernians. Photo: Wally Galea

The schedule for game day #4 of the BOV National League was brought down to a single game due to COVID-19 issues affecting some of the clubs.

However, the solitary game offered a number of interesting perspectives including a dramatic final minute with the lead changing hands until a three pointer, just two seconds from time, determined the game in Starlites’ favour with the latter managing also to keep their unbeaten streak with four league wins in a row.

On the other hand, Hibs fell just short of an amazing comeback after they had fallen 20 points behind at half-time but replied strongly in the second half and even took a late lead.

The other scheduled matches in this game day, namely Mellieħa Libertas Spalding vs Depiro and BUPA Luxol vs Gzira Athleta, will be rescheduled for a later date.

Hibernians 80
Starlites Naxxar GiG 82
(8-21, 17-24, 29-14, 26-23)

Even if Starlites immediately forged ahead after the tip-off, through a brace of baskets from Alec Felice Pace and Robert Bonnici, the game had a balanced first part of the initial quarter with Ivan Demcesen replying for Hibs at the other end.

However, the Naxxar side surprised the Paolites with a 13-2 streak in the last part of the first quarter, a streak which opened a double-digit margin between the two sides.

Six Starlites players contributed to this early run and the present league leaders did not let go, even when play restarted for the second quarter as they further extended their lead to 30-10 after a Travis McConico hoop.

Although Demcesen and Nikola Vasovic tried to inspire Hibs to better offensive ploys, Starlites were totally in command at this stage and three-pointers from McConico, Ian Felice Pace and Matthew Scerri led them to a notable 45-25 half-time lead.

Scerri kept his touch after the interval and added a three-ball and a set of two free throws for Starlites but Hibs set the
ball rolling for an amazing comeback.

In three minutes of play they hit their opponents with a 14-0 run, Vasovic notching half of this tally.

Marko Matijevic and David Bugeja added further hoops for Hibs and Starlites only managed to survive the onslaught with McConico and Robert Ahearn nailing some free-throws for an open 59-54 score after that many had deemed the game over just ten minutes before at the interval.

It was now clear it was anybody’s game especially after Hibs drew level very early in the last quarter at 61-61.

Two and-one plays and a brace of buckets momentarily placed Starlites ahead with a marginal lead but Hibs were not to be outdone and always maintained close contact.

Two minutes from time, an Alec Felice Pace hoop gave Starlites some breathing space for 76-71 but a Vasovic trey, as the game clock moved inside its last rotation, got Hibs back at striking distance.

A careless turnover allowed Hibs to take a one-point lead when they managed to steal the ball in their frontcourt and Anton Axiaq penetrated for a lay-up basket and even got clearly fouled in the process but then missed the free throw.

At the opposite end, Matthew Scerri cooly took responsibility and nailed an important three pointer but Starlites’ joys were short-lived as Vasovic replied likewise from the long distance with just over 10 seconds left.

Coming off a time-out, Starlites sought McConico and Ahearn but both were closely marked by Hibs and the ball finally fell in Alec Felice Pace’s hands at the extended top of the key spot and the Starlites’ skipper banged in what proved to be the game’s winner with two seconds left.

Hibs tried to reply after a last-ditch time-out but their final effort missed the target.

Hibs: P. Attard, D. Bugeja 10, K. Caruana 2, L. Farrugia, K. Dimech 5, N. Cassar, N. Vasovic 21, A. Axiaq 8, M. Matijevic 14, M. Attard, I. Demcesen 20.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 17, J. Zammit 2, R. Bonnici 9, I. Felice Pace 8, M. Fabri, M. Vella, M. Scerri 13, R. Carabott 2, M. Formosa, T. McConico 20, A. Xuereb, R. Ahearn 11.
Refs: K. Dworniczak, L. Camilleri, V. Nikolic.

Standings: Starlites Naxxar GiG 4/0; BUPA Luxol 2/1; Hibs (1/3); Gżira Athleta, Depiro, Mellieħa Libertas Spalding

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