The Louis Borg Cup semi-finals, played over two legs in the space of 48 hours, had their interesting moments.
The closest series was that between BUPA Luxol and Starlites Fijo with the Violets managing to win both games, albeit with a tight margin, to oust Starlites.
In the other tie, Mellieħa took control of the second game against Depiro to book their place in the final to be played in mid-March.
BUPA Luxol 163
Starlites Fijo 156
Fresh from their Shield success a few days earlier, Starlites Fijo looked like they were on track to impose their rhythm when they closed the first quarter of the first game with an 11-0 run which led them to a double-figure lead with Darius George and Ian Felice Pace netting a trey and a brace of hoops respectively.
The Naxxar side kept the upper edge for a number of minutes in the second quarter but late first half treys from Jean Paul Schembri and Matthew Sciberras, in between a brace of Tayler Mattos close-range buckets, helped Luxol to recover lost ground and bring the game at par, 40-40, at the interval.
With Trevian Bell and Nikola Vasovic combining from outside the zone and Mattos continuing to be a threat under the boards, Luxol managed to forge ahead, 67-55.
Starlites’ reaction at the start of the final quarter had them close the margin after points off George and an Alec Felice Pace long-ranger.
Luxol, however, kept their focus and managed to defend their lead as they surged 77-69 after a series of free throws.
Zekiah Owens and Jacob Bates pushed hard for a Starlites recovery and a Bates trey made it 80-81 only for Bell to close the first encounter with two free throws to help his side go for the second game enjoying a slender three-point advantage.
Thus, it was all to play for 48 hours later.
Finally it was Luxol who managed to thwart all Starlites’ efforts throughout the game and a 9-0 run, early in the final quarter proved quite influential as Luxol moved to a double-digit lead at that juncture and piled on the pressure on their opponents. The latter did manage to close off the deficit to a single point but could never erase the aggregate deficit.
Despite committing far more turnovers than their opponents, Luxol shot with better accuracy and also won the rebounds game 51-38 with veteran Marko Matijevic contributing a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards as well as four assists in 23 minutes of play.
Mattos was more of an offensive threat in the second half on his way to a 26 point game, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals whilst guard Trevian Bell also had a double-double with 50% shooting and 20 points together with 10 boards, five assists and two steals.
Yet, it was Starlites who had the better start as they raced to a 14-9 lead with captain Felice Pace well on song in the first rubber. He ended with 21 points and three steals.
Back-to-back treys from Vasovic helped Luxol to come at par and then it was a tit-for-tat game until the interval with Starlites banging points off their trio of import players Bates, George and Owens, all of them ending with double figures.
The third quarter was no different as the two sides practically neutralized each other even if Luxol enjoyed most of the lead.
Then first five minutes of the final quarter were characterized with a 15-4 Luxol run, including nine points without a reply and a brace of Bell three balls. This run upped Luxol’s morale to a high as they now were banking on a healthy aggregate lead.
Starlites did not throw in the towel and made a last effort and gradually gnawed away at the deficit to arrive to 74-75 in the final minute.
Bell kept his cool and banged in two sets of free throws to seal his team’s win.
BUPA Luxol 83
Starlites Fijo 80
(19-28, 21-12, 27-17, 16-23)
Luxol: N. Vasovic 16, M. Sciberras 3, T. Bell 20, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri 14, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 22, M. Matijevic 4, S. Cappello 4.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 13, Z. Owens 11, M. Attard, J. Bates 21, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, R. Carabott 2, L. Farrugia 4, K. Xuereb 2, N. Sultana, D. George 18.
Referees: G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi, B. Mrkojevic.
Starlites Fijo 76
BUPA Luxol 80
(16-15, 22-23, 16-17, 22-25)
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 21, Z. Owens 18, J. Bates 15, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 3, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb, N. Sultana, D. George 14.
Luxol: N. Vasovic 16, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 21, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri 1, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 26, M. Matijevic 11, S. Cappello 5.
Referees:D. Torok, F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi.
Mellieħa Libertas 188
In game one, a fourth-quarter 12-0 streak was the first turning point in this series as here Mellieha opened an 87-72 lead after that Depiro had battled hard in the first three quarters of the game.
In fact, early treys from Cameron Cornelius and Sean Galea set them going to a 12-4 sixth-minute lead. Centre Kameron Rooks had quite a strong performance with a big tally of 25 rebounds and 26 points together with four blocked shots.
The Mtarfa side were unlucky to see their captain Andrew Aquilina leave the court injured, which also had him out from game two, whilst Miguel Brincat was excluded from the game.
Mellieħa recovered to come up level with their opponents with Sebastian Valencia potting 10 consecutive points, including two treys. The Colombian centre had 33 points hitting 5 from ten three-point attempts.
The northerners also had the return of American Connor Zinaich who closed off game one with a double-double with 11 boards added to his 27 points as well as a poker of assists and blocked shots.
There were a number of lead changes in the second quarter with Depiro having more time in front until Mellieha had a seven-point run which saw them go 60-54 ahead.
Depiro were quick to recover and the next minutes saw Libertas maintaining a very slender lead until Zinaich went on a personal 10 point stretch and helped his side to move 87-72 ahead with two minutes to go.
Depiro managed to reduce the deficit by half with the game’s last seven points.
A brace of Nenad Bukva buckets and a Robert Bonnici trey set off Mellieħa in the second game. Zinaich continued shortly afterwards to set off Depiro’s improved efforts and lead Mellieħa to a 28-21 first-quarter lead.
The Mtarfa side tried their best to penetrate Mellieħa’s defence yet the latter did not fail to hit back as well and managed also, with also a good rotation of all their players, to increase their lead a bit more by the interval for 49-36.
With the outcome of the series seemingly already decided, the second half was an open affair with both sides having their moments.
Rooks had another high-scoring game with 36 points and 26 rebounds and three blocks.
On the otherhand Cornelius just missed on a double-double with 11 points and nine boards as well as four assists.
As regards assists, Mellieħa’s David Bugeja amassed 16 assists over these two games.
Mellieħa Libertas 87
(22-21, 18-16, 23-32, 16-18)
Depiro: S. Galea 8, J. Micallef, A. Aquilina 4, N. Grech 3, K. Rooks 26, M. Brincat 7, M. Mallia 5, C. Cornelius 15, A. Micallef, K. Caruana 11.
MellieĦa: S. Zammit, M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 7, R. Bonnici 5, V. Jandric 7, I. Bonett 2, N. Bukva 4, N. Jovanovic, C. Zinaich 27, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 33.
Referees: D. Torok, G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi.
Mellieħa Libertas 101
(28-21, 21-15, 27-21, 25-16)
Mellieħa: M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 8, R. Bonnici 7, V. Jandric 7, I. Bonett 6, N. Bukva 8, N. Jovanovic 5, C. Zinaich 29, M. Formosa 2, O. Said 5, S. Valencia 22.
Depiro: S. Galea 8, J. Micallef, N. Grech 5, A. Attard 5, K. Rooks 36, M. Mallia 8, C. Cornelius 11, A. Micallef, K. Caruana.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, B. Mrkojevic, N. Azzopardi.
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