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Mellieħa retain two game-lead over Starlites

Starlites Zekiah Owens goes for the basket against Hibs. Photo: Wally Galea

Game day 12 of the BOV Men League had different outcomes.

Mellieħa Libertas maintained their two-game advantage in the standings over Starlites FIJO after a convincing win over BUPA Luxol. Starlites’ victory over Hibernians means that the Paolites are now out of the reckoning for a playoff spot. On the other hand, Depiro, who similar to Hibs started the league season with -3 points for disciplinary reasons, registered their fourth straight league win and have now come at par with Gżira Athleta in the standings, also having a direct game advantage with two wins already over Athleta.

With three game days to go in the regular season, the run for the final two spots now has intensified with Luxol enjoying a marginal buffer with a game lead over the two teams in their pursuit.

Mellieħa Libertas 95
BUPA Luxol 82
(21-17, 21-21, 27-11, 26-33)

A solid, superior third-quarter performance paved the way for Mellieħa’s ninth league win thus maintaining their two-game lead over second-placed Starlites.

The Northerners always enjoyed the lead after Vukasin Jandric set them going with the first of his treys after 43 seconds and then the team’s top point-getter, America Connor Zinaich, potted two shots from the charity line. He had a positive 67% shooting on the day for 29 points, nine boards, three assists, and two blocks.

Trevian Bell notched Luxol’s first hoop off a lay-up but it was a 12-5 lead for Mellieħa midway in the first quarter.

Nenad Bukva had two fast break hoops whilst Robert Bonnici landed a three-ball followed by a similar long ranger from team captain David Bugeja.

Luxol’s reference point at this point was Taylor Mattos and the centre left his mark at the end of the first rubber with 12 consecutive points as he brought the two sides merely a basket away from each other, 17-19.

Mattos was the only player to play all 40 minutes where he closed with a double-double with 39 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists.

Despite an early second quarter second chance bucket from Luxol’s Stefan Cappello, a 9-0 streak at the opposite end led Mellieħa to a double-digit 30-19 lead.

Luxol did reply and after Nikola Vasovic added to Mattos’ baskets, a Marko Matijevic hook shot again made it a two-point game, 34-36.

Mellieħa presented their recent import addition, Colombian Sebastian Valencia who after a quiet start in the first half and, in the second half, distinguished himself with four blocked shots, seven rebounds, and two steals for 14 points.

After the interval, Mellieħa outscored Luxol 20-4 in the first five minutes of the second half thereby now extending their lead to a considerable 20-point margin, 62-42. Although Luxol tried to recoup their efforts, the same margin was present at the end of the third quarter, 69-49.

Luxol did improve in the final rubber but Mellieħa preserved their lead.

Mellieħa Libertas: M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 11, R. Bonnici 3, V. Jandric 23, I. Bonett, N. Bukva 12, N. Jovanovic 3, C. Zinaich 29, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 14.
BUPA Luxol: J. Cefai 9, N. Vasovic 7, M. Sciberras 3, T. Bell 11, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri 2, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 39, M. Matijevic 9, S. Cappello 2.
Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic.

Hibernians 84
Starlites FIJO 92
(12-15, 19-24, 22-33, 31-20)

The first four minutes of this encounter were practically points-dry as neither side could easily find their way to the basket. Hibs notched the first two hoops and it was still 4-0 at the start of the fifth minute.

Hibs’ offense relied a lot on their tandem of centre Ivan Demcesen and forward Justin Bogle who both played all 40 minutes.

The Serb centre had another strong under-the-boards performance potting 43 points at 71 per cent shooting and 17 rebounds, including six offensive boards.

Bogle added 22 points, eight boards and four assists with 50% accuracy with his three-point shooting (one on seven) dampening a bit his percentage on a day where Hibs had only three treys from 21 attempts against Starlites’ 35 per cent long-range accuracy.

On the other hand, Starlites presented their new import Zekiah Owens, who partnered with fellow import Darius George.

Despite losing the rebounds game, Starlites forced Hibs to a number of turnovers (27-16) and this was also a major factor in the Naxxar side’s success.

Starlites set the points counter rolling through a Louie Farrugia jumper followed by a Matthew Scerri trey and a fastbreak lay-up by Ryan Carabott and they then moved to a 15-9 lead only for Paul Attard to score a very late trey for Hibs just before the end of the first quarter.

Hibs managed to bring the game at par twice in the second quarter but a 14-2 Starlites’ run had the latter open a double-digit lead. Late Demcesen points, including a three-ball, made it 39-31 at halftime.

The margin between the two sides increased to 19 points, 72-53, by the end of the third quarter after a 15-4 Starlites spurt in the last part of the quarter including points from Scerri and Alec Felice Pace.

The Naxxar side’s lead went to a 24-point high after a brace of George hoops in the first minute of the last rubber but from then on, Hibs made a significant effort and gradually started gnawing away at the deficit and suddenly it was a totally open two-point game, 81-83, with two and a half minutes till the final buzzer.

Owens came to Starlites’ rescue with four straight points in the next minute, including a dunk after a steal off a throw-in, and then freethrows from Matthew Attard and Felice Pace ascertained Starlites’ win.

Hibernians: N. Cassar 4, P. Attard 3, L. Attard, L. Farrugia 4, L. Borg, A. Axiaq 6, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 2, J. Bogle 22, M. Bezzina, I. Demcesen 43, G. Cassar.
Starlites FIJO: A. Felice Pace 8, Z. Owens 27, M. Attard 12, M. Barbara, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 7, R. Carabott 4, L. Farrugia 6, N. Sultana, D. George 28.
Referees: G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi.

Gżira Athleta 69
Depiro 75
(20-15, 18-19, 14-23, 17-18)

This was a game with a number of lead changes as the two sides battled it out, yet it was eventually Depiro who kept with their winning streak to register also their second league win over Gżira Athleta apart from now joining them on the fourth rung in the standings.

Depiro had the upper edge for most of the early stages as they enjoyed a slender lead after Miguel Brincat set them off with a trey followed by baskets from Kieron Caruana and Cameron Cornelius and then Kameron Rooks’ first points, off free throws, had the Mtarfa side 9-3 ahead.

Rooks, who had a double-double with 29 points and 25 rebounds, helped Depiro to be superior under the boards.

The shining element in Athleta’s side in this game was Nathan Xuereb who also had a double-double with 12 rebounds added to his 29 points at 48% accuracy, and four assists and steals respectively. Roland Griffin was not in his usual form whilst Henry van Herk added five assists and three steals to his seven boards but shot at 13%.

Ivan Medved brought down eight rebounds in almost 12 minutes of play.

Peter Shoults had a trey and Xuereb added three other three-balls to put Athleta 20-15 ahead.

Although Depiro were pressing hard, Athleta still managed to keep hold of their lead to lead 38-34 at half-time.

The lead changed midway in the third rubber after a Depiro 8-0 run through Rooks, Cornelius, and skipper Andrew Aquilina.

This trio played all 40 minutes with Aquilina adding 11 points and a brace of steals.

Depiro’s lead increased to seven points but mid-fourth quarter points from Xuereb and Shoults made it a very tight 65-67 game with 80 seconds to go.

Yet, it was Depiro who sealed the win as free throws made sure of their victory.

Gżira Athleta: H. Van Herk 3, F. Mifsud Bonnici 9, N. Buhagiar, P. Shoults 9, L. Stefanovic 3, N. Xuereb 29, R. Griffen 12, I. Xuereb, R. Abela, I. Medved 2, B. Zammit 2.
Depiro: S. Galea 1, J. Micallef, A. Aquilina 11, N. Grech, K. Rooks 27, M. Brincat 15, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 19, A. Micallef, M. Debattista, K. Caruana 2.
Referees: D. Torok, F. Ciurariu, B. Mrkojevic.

Mellieħa Libertas (9/3) 21; Starlites FIJO (7/5) 19; BUPA Luxol (5/7) 17; Gżira Athleta (4/8) 16; Depiro (-3) (7/5) 16; Hibernians (-3) (4/8) 13.


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