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Mellieħa Libertas take sole leadership of Division One

Mellieħa’s David Bugeja (right) looks for a pass against Starlites. Photo: Wally Galea

Mellieħa Libertas 96
Starlites FIJO 80
(25-10, 15-25, 26-28, 20-17)

Mellieħa Libertas took the top spot in the standings after grabbing their second league win over Starlites out of three rounds.

The Northerners beat their nearest rivals while holding the lead throughout, led by their import player Connor Zinaich who had a positive game with an efficiency rating of 56 including a double-double with 36 points and 19 rebounds.
After a very early trey from Vukasin Jandric, Mellieħa grabbed their longest streak in the game with an 8-0 run which had them go 11-2 with under three minutes played.

Zinaich banged in two back-to-back three balls followed by a Nenad Bukva fastbreak layup after a Starlites turnover.

With Starlites failing to find consistency in their offence, Mellieħa continued to extend their lead and the end of the first quarter had them 25-9 ahead with Isaac Bonett netting his side’s last five points in the quarter with a lay-up followed by a trey.

For the first part of the second quarter, the margin between the two sides remained at double digits until a small run, courtesy of Darius George and Jordan Notch, made it a five-point game, 38-33.

These two Americans shared 50 points between them on the day, both also with double-doubles with George adding 10 boards whilst Notch had 13 rebounds in the game.

Starlites’ other players were not much on song in their shooting percentages in this match as the team shot their field goals at 36% against Mellieħa’s 45%.

When play restarted after the interval, Mellieħa again showed the more positive play on the court as they again opened a good lead with a 16-5 initial run.

Apart from Zinaich, ex-Starlites Robert Bonnici hit two early three-pointers and a jump shot shortly afterwards, on his way to a personal 20-point and 4 assists game, as Libertas were now 56-40 ahead.

However, Starlites had other ideas and hit back strongly in the next two and a half minutes with a game-high 12-0 run which re-opened the game, now with the two sides merely four points away from each other.

The remaining minutes of the third quarter were a tussle with both sides replying to each other and the quarter’s final buzzer sounding with a tight scoreline, 66-63.

David Bugeja had three hoops for the victors whilst Matthew Attard and Ryan Carabott added to George’s efforts at the other end.

Although an Attard trey made it, momentarily, a tied game just 15 seconds into the final quarter, Mellieħa again took the upper hand in the next five minutes with another run, this time 11-2.

Although Starlites stopped the momentary dearth of points with a Matthew Scerri close-range hoop, the northerners kept on going to again open a double-digit lead 90-76, now with only a minute to go to the final buzzer.

Time was against Starlites and Mellieha administered the last possessions to notch this important victory for the league standings.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS: S. Zammit 2, M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 10, R. Bonnici 20, V. Jandric 10, I. Bonett 7, N. Bukva 8, N. Jovanovic 3, C. Zinaich 36, M. Formosa, O. Said.
STARLITES FIJO: A. Felice Pace 7, M. Attard 6, M. Barbara, M. Fabri 6, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 6, R. Carabott 5, L. Farrugia, N. Sultana, D. George 32, J. Notch 18.
Referees: D. Torok, G. Barbara, F. Ciurariu.

Gżira Athleta 85
Hibernians 81
(32-17, 18-16, 15-26, 20-22)

Gżira Athleta jumped to a solitary third spot in the standings after beating Hibernians in a very open game ending with a tight margin.

The Paolites enjoyed their only lead very early in the game after two consecutive close-range hoops from their top scorer Ivan Demcesen.

The towering centre ended with 38 points with 64% shooting and six on seven free throws as well as 19 boards and was the main go-to guy for Hibs.

After a brace of early hoops from Matthew Gouder, Athleta started moving ahead with buckets from their import players Roland Griffin and Henry van Herk who played together for the first time in this game.

This duo shared 48 points and 19 rebounds between them as they shot almost identical with a 47% field goal percentage although van Herk could be better from the long distance.

Late in the first quarter, points off Nathan Xuereb and ex-Hibs Peter Shoults helped Athleta to their game high 9-0 run as the gap between the two sides reached 15 points, 30-15.

The second quarter was a more balanced affair with both sides neutralising each other although, at times, play was a bit too slack and scrimmage type.

Midway in this quarter, Hibs managed to bring down the deficit to six points after a series of hoops from Demecsen as well as Justin Bogle who accumulated 20 rebounds in the game as well as 11 points although he could not find his mark from three-point range.

Athleta’s quick reply was a trey from Luca Stefanovic and plays from Griffin as they moved to their biggest lead in the game, 50-33, at the half-time mark.

This margin was present for most of the third quarter as the ball was moving continously up and and down the court at both ends until a series of Demcesen hoops from inside the zone again brought Hibs closer to their opponents for a four-point game, 63-67, in the third minute in the final quarter.

It seemed that Athleta were again going to take the game into their own hands when, in the following four minutes, they outscored their opponents 13-3, mainly through van Herk.

Bouyed by another double –digit lead, Athleta could administer the last minutes even though Hibs again edged closer.

GZIRA ATHLETA: H. Van Herk 20, F. Mifsud Bonnici 2, P. Shoults 4, L. Stefanovic 5, N. Xuereb 14, R. Griffin 28, I. Xuereb, M. Gouder 10, R. Abela, I. Medved.
HIBERNIANS: N. Cassar, P. Attard 2, L. Attard, L. Farrugia 18, L. Borg, A. Axiaq 12, J. Bogle 11, M. Bezzina, I. Demcesen 38, G. Cassar.
Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic.

Depiro 66
BUPA Luxol 63
(24-17, 17-13, 13-19, 12-14)

Depiro managed to notch a tight win over BUPA Luxol after a game where the Mtarfa side had most of the lead but Luxol were very close to a victory in the late stages of the same encounter.

Depiro’s win was orchestrated by their import duo. Centre Kameron Rooks added an impressive 24 boards to his 18 points in the game whilst guard Cameron Cornelius led Depiro’s game tempo and shot 38% from the field as he ended as the game’s top point-getter with 27 points.

At the other end, four players played all the 40 minutes with Trevian Bell again leading the side in points with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists whilst Luxol’s’ two centres on the day, Taylor Mattos and Stefan Capello, shared 18 points and 25 rebounds between them.

Depiro enjoyed a nine-point lead three times in the first quarter and then managed to extend this to double figures late in the first half as points from Cornelius, Rooks and Miguel Brincat made it 41-28.

Luxol’s offensive machine improved in the latter part of the third quarter and a trey and hoop consecutively from Bell
and Capello made it an open game at 49-52.

The game was open for any result, especially when, three minutes from the end, the teams were at par 60-60 after a Mattos dunk on a fast break after a Depiro turnover.

Luxol went ahead through Bell only for Depiro to bring parity once again after a Kieron Caruana layup.

With 18 seconds on the clock, Rook scored a brace of free-throws but 12 seconds later, at the other side, Bell could only make one from two.

Luxol fouled to stop the clock and captain Andrew Aquilina scored two shots from the charity line and Luxol’s last-gasp long distance effort to bring overtime missed the mark.

Depiro: S. Galea, J. Micallef, A. Aquilina 7, K. Rooks 18, M. Brincat 5, C. Cornelius 27, M. Debattista, K. Caruana 9.
BUPA Luxol: N. Vasovic 12, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 24, JP Schembri 9, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, T. Mattos 9, S. Cappello 9.
Referees: B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, J. Londono.

Mellieħa Libertas (7/2) 16; Starlites FIJO (6/3) 15; Gżira Athleta (4/5) 13, BUPA Luxol (3/6) 12; Depiro (-3) (4/5) 10; Hibernians (-3) (3/6) 9.

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