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Starlites Fijo outlast Mellieħa Libertas to lift MBA Shield for fourth time

Starlites Depiro players celebrate with the MBA Shield. Photo: Wally Galea

Starlites Fijo  75 

Mellieħa Libertas  70

(17-21, 23-11, 22-27, 13-11)

A Matt Attard three-ball, his first and only hoop in the game, two minutes 39 seconds from the end of normal regulation time moved Starlites Fijo to the 75-point mark and led to them raising the MBA Shield trophy for the fourth time in history.

For Starlites, this was their first success in this competition in four years and earns them their second seasonal honour after raising the Super Cup a few months ago.

This was a very tightly-contested game where there were seven lead changes in the 37 minutes played and statistically both sides enjoyed almost identical time with a form of point advantage.

In fact, Starlites enjoyed just over 16 minutes in the lead whilst Mellieħa went a minute further enjoying the lead for 17 minutes.

This was a game which surely would have gone right down to the wire but had to end prematurely due to the 75-point winning format utilised, after the clubs had voted in favour in the pre-season, for the men’s games in the MBA Shield competition this season.

The format subsequently received criticism from both clubs and players and many remarked would not like to see a repeat of in the coming season.

With both teams needing time to find their rhythm, Mellieħa Libertas were more precise in the early stages even if it was a low 10-5 lead after five minutes of play.

The northerners had to do again without the services of the top point-getter and influential forward Connor Zinaich who was again unavailable in the past week due to medical reasons. At the other end, Starlites were missing the young talented Matthew Scerri.

Despite Starlites grabbing the first hoop through a fast break off their top scorer in the game Darius George (24 pts at 45% shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 steals), it was Mellieħa who enjoyed the lead for the best part of the first rubber.

Vukasin Jandric and Robert Bonnici banged in treys with Sebastian Valencia adding a rebound hoop in between for Mellieħa’s biggest scoring run in the game, 8-0.

Centre Valencia contributed 25 points with 61% accuracy, including two from six threeball attempts, as well as adding 10 boards, one steal and a great tally of five blocks.

Jandric added 16 points (28%) but could have been better especially from long range although he also had a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Captain David Bugeja finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds as well as 9 assists and 3 steals but also here, the shooting percentage was at 31%. Isaac Bonett had a double figures game with 10 personal points at 66% accuracy and 5 rebounds.

Very late in the first quarter, the lead momentarily went in Starlites’ favour after an Alec Felice Pace zone penetrating lay-up followed by free-throws from George, yet Mellieħa were quick to reply and again take the upper hand, for a 21-17 lead after 10 minutes, after late Bonett and Bugeja baskets.

A late 13-0 Naxxar streak characterised the second quarter. Initially, it was Mellieħa who maintained the lead for the first six minutes going to a maximum 30-23 score after a Valencia and-one play.

George started off Starlites’ run and by three minutes later, they had amassed 13 points on the trot with Kurt Xuereb and Zekiah Owens adding more hoops as the victors moved to a 40-31 lead.

Captain Felice Pace had a positive showing contributing 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a team-high 33 minutes of play.

Owens was also on double figures with 10 points, nine boards, two assists and two steals whilst Jacob Bates, in his second week after returning to play with Starlites after last season’s contribution, came off the bench and added eight points and five rebounds. He also had 2 assists and 2 blocks, similar to Xuereb who added 7 points at 60% from his end. Guard Miguel Fabri had 2 three-balls in important moments.

After the interval, it looked like Starlites were going to be in control of the game as they led all throughout the ten minutes and even enjoyed double-digit leads for some time including at 49-38 and 56-45.

However, Mellieħa made a late rally and managed to bring the game at par, 59-59, with 11 seconds to go in the quarter, only for Fabri to land a buzzer beating trey amidst Starlites’ relief for 62-59.

The last quarter started with both sides tussling on every possession with Mellieħa seemingly coming close to the 75-point mark when Bonett scored off a turnover for 70-67 five minutes from the end of normal regulation time.

A George and-one play brough the game at par and 50 seconds later the same player ran alone with an open path to the hoop to land in a dunk for 72-70.

Mellieħa had three possessions with no result whilst Starlites twice opted to shoot from long range to no avail.

With 2:39 on the normal clock time, Attard sank in a trey to bring the game to a premature, yet legal according to the competition format, end amidst the delight of the Starlites’ supporters whilst Mellieha had to console with the ‘what-if’ question if the game had to go right down the wire.

MBA president Paul Sultana presented the MBA Shield trophy to the Starlites’ skipper Alec Felice Pace.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 16, Z. Owens 10, M. Attard 3, J. Bates 8, I. Felice Pace 1, M. Fabri 6, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 7, N. Sultana, D. George 24

Mellieha: S. Zammit, M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 14, R. Bonnici 4, V. Jandric 16, I. Bonett 10, N. Bukva 1, N. Jovanovic, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 25 

Referees: D. Torok, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic

BOV Men’s League

Game day 13 of the BOV League was played in midweek and produced also an interesting outcome when Depiro had the better of Gzira Athleta in a direct play-off determining encounter.

With BUPA Luxol losing to league leaders Mellieħa Libertas, Depiro jumped to third spot in the table, despite starting the league campaign at -3 points, similar to Hibernians.

The latter saw their play-off chances ended mathematically when they had to bow down to Starlites Fijo. The Paolites also decided on the departure of their injured import player Justin Bogle along the same week.

As things stand, Gżira Athleta’s only marginal hopes for a play-off spot rest on winning their last two games against the top two teams in the standings, namely Mellieħa and Starlites and either Depiro or Luxol then losing both their remaining league matches.


Starlites Fijo   107 Hibs   87

Depiro             82 Gżira Athleta  74

BUPA Luxol     64 Mellieħa Libertas 71


Mellieha Libertas (10/3) 23; Starlites Fijo (8/5) 21; Depiro** (8/5) 18; Bupa Luxol (5/8) 18; Gżira Athleta (4/9) 17; Hibernians** (4/9) 14

** Depiro and Hibernians started the league with three points deducted for disciplinary purposes

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