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Starlites to face Mellieħa in MBA Shield final in February

Starlites Fijo and Mellieħa Libertas booked their passage to the competition final which will be played on February 19.

The Naxxar side and the northerners respectively had the better of Depiro and Gżira Athleta in games which ended prematurely as the 75-point win threshold was applied, albeit possibly under different circumstances in the two games.

Whereas Mellieħa were firmly in command in the latter stages of their contest against Gżira Athleta and never seemed in danger of losing the game, Starlites had to dig deep in their arsenal to get the better of a resolute Depiro side who even led for a good part of the game before falling behind.

However, even then, the Mtarfa side did their best to keep on battling.

Starlites Fijo       75

Depiro  66

(17-18, 25-24, 27-20, 6-4)

Depiro had a positive start as they set off with a 10-point run as they surprised their opponents with treys from Cornelius Cameron and Andrew Aquilina and points off Kameron Rooks.

Although Darius George netted Starlites’ first two hoops, Depiro still maintained the clear upperhand as they added a tris of buckets from Cameron for 16-4.

This double-digit lead was however neutralised by the end of the first quarter especially after Starlites had a late rally and ten consecutive points had them close down the gap to a solitary point, 17-18.

The Felice Pace brothers, Alec and Ian, as well as forward Matthew Scerri notched some important hoops for the winners at this juncture.

Rooks’ early second quarter points kept Depiro in the lead for the good part of this second rubber with later threeballs from Aquilina and Miguel Brincat putting their side 37-31 ahead.

Late in the first half, back-to-back baskets from Kurt Xuereb gave Starlites the first lead, albeit momentarily at this point, as Depiro managed to bring the game at par, 42-42, at the interval following a brace of Brincat free throws.

The balance on the court was still evident when play restarted and half of the third quarter went by. The lead alternated at both ends as one hoop on one side was immediately replied at the other end.

A Matthew Attard long ranger followed by a brace of George hoops moved Starlites 62-56 ahead.

With Depiro failing to keep their earlier momentum, the Mtarfa side managed to close the third quarter 69-62 in the lead.

At this point, Starlites, who presented a new American import in this game, Minnesota-born Jordan Notch who started this season playing in Kosovo with Vellaznimi Gjakove before moving to our shores and replaced Melvin Newbern, were only three regular hoops away from the win.

Depiro tried to get back into the game but the 75-point criteria was looming down on them and buckets from the Felice Pace’s and a George close range conclusion ascertained Starlites’ passage to the MBA Shield final.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 18, M. Attard 9, J. Notch 4, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 9, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb 4, N. Sultana, D. George 24.

Depiro: J. Flagrl, B. Nel, A. Aquilina 13, N. Grech, A. Attard, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 20, M. Brincat 12, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 19, M. Debattista 2.

Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi, F. Ciurariu

Mellieħa Libertas         75

Gżira Athleta     43

(19-13, 22-17, 26-11, 8-2)

The game had a balanced start with both sides wary of each other and practically at par.

Connor Zinaich gave Mellieħa the first lead followed by team partner Vukasin Jandric with Gżira Athleta staying very close behind after initial buckets from Roland Griffin and Francesco Mifsud Bonnici as well as a hoop from their debutant import signing, Pasco-born Jalen King, who will probably show more of his capabilities with more time after this quiet start.

Nathan Xuereb kept Gzira close to their opponents with three early second quarter hoops but eventually Mellieha started opening a positive buffer as Zinaich continued to sting his adversaries for a double-digit lead.

Although Gżira replied through Griffin and Nazareno Buhagiar, Mellieħa maintained a 41-30 lead at the interval after a late first half trey from David Bugeja.

Action was balanced at both ends till midway in the third quarter as baskets at both ends kept the gap between the two sides at 50-38.

But here Mellieħa made a game decisive break with 17 straight unanswered points through Robert Bonnici and Isaac Bonett apart from the Ziniach/Jandric duo including some athletic dunks by the former American forward.

With almost 30 points separating the two sides, the game was practically decided even as Mellieħa were just a step away from the 75-point mark.

After two treys from Nikola Jovanovic and Bonnici, Miguel Falzon notched the game closing bucket with a close-range off the board hoop to send his side Mellieħa Libertas to the final against Starlites in 16 weeks’ time.

Mellieħa: S. Zammit 1, M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 11, R. Bonnici 3, V. Jandric 18, I. Bonett 7, N. Bukva 4, N. Jovanovic 3, C. Zinaich 26, M. Formosa.

GŻIRA Athleta: J. King 4, F. Mifsud Bonnici 4, N. Buhagiar 6, K. Coloman, L. Stefanovic, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 10, R. Griffin 17, I. Xuereb, S. Vincic, R. Abela, B. Zammit 2.

Referees: B. Vassallo, D. Torok, I. Ciurariu.

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