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Play-off spots determined but semi-final pairings undecided

Depiro’s Miguel Mallia goes for the basket against Mellieħa. Photo; Wally Galea

The four playoff spots in the BOV men’s League were mathematically decided last weekend after BUPA Luxol’s and Depiro’s wins coupled with Gżira Athleta’s defeat meant that the latter are now out of the reckoning for the post-regular season phase and, similar to Hibernians, will end their season early.

Despite the weekend’s setback against Depiro, leaders Mellieħa Libertas are already certain of being the regular season’s top team given the direct encounter advantage over second-placed Starlites FIJO.

The top team at the end of the regular season will face the fourth-placed team in the semifinal stage played on a best-of-three format, whilst the second-placed team will cross swords with the third in the standings.

The uncertainty lies in the third and fourth placements. As things stand, Luxol and Depiro are tied on equal points yet Luxol have the advantage on the direct game against the Mtarfa side and thus are presently third.

However, the last game day may lead to some interesting developments.

Mellieħa will kickstart this final regular season game day by facing Gżira Athleta with the future of both teams already decided as the northerners will then await the outcome of the other games to get to know who will end in fourth spot.
Depiro, similar to Starlites, amassed nine wins so far in the league but had started the league with a three-point deduction for disciplinary purposes.

The Mtarfa side will face Hibs in the second game of the final game day. A win would move them to 22 points and would put pressure on Luxol if the latter would still be aiming for third spot.

The Violets will feature in the final game of the regular season when they will meet Starlites.

Should Depiro have already won their previous game, then a Starlites success over Luxol would place the latter in the fourth rung in the league ladder thus pairing them with Mellieħa in the play-off semifinal stage whereas Starlites would then end up having to fight out the semi-finals against Depiro.

On the other hand, always assuming a Depiro win over Hibs, a Luxol victory over Starlites would mean that the same two sides will then have to face other in the playoffs semifinal round.

Should, however, Depiro falter against Hibs, then the last game, namely Starlites vs Luxol, would have no bearing on the semifinal pairings as Depiro would automatically end up fourth.

Meanwhile, in the weekend’s games, Gżira Athleta gave champions Starlites FIJO a good run for the money in a high-scoring and, at most times, entertaining contest.

This was an even match with the lead changing 12 times and it was only in the final minutes of the game that Starlites managed to distance themselves to grab the win.

Athleta were leading 84-79 with four and a half minutes till the final buzzer as they were seeking a win that would have kept their hopes, albeit slim, still alive to make it to the playoffs.

A minute later Athleta, who had Henry van Herk amassing 17 rebounds apart from 18 points, were still ahead, this time with a marginal 88-86 lead after buckets from Roland Griffin (double-double with a game-high 31 points and 14 rebounds) and Nathan Xuereb (15 points, six assists) kept Starlites momentarily behind. This despite the latter notching hoops from Darius George (28 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and six steals) and Matthew Scerri (70% shooting for 18 points, four steals, and three assists).

The Naxxar side registered a game-winning 12-0 streak in the next three minutes. This run was set off with Jacob Bates (19 points, nine boards, eight assists) free throws and a Ryan Carabott hoop followed by treys by captain Alec Felice Pace and Scerri before George ascertained his side’s win.

Depiro enjoyed the vast majority of the lead in their game against league leaders Mellieħa Libertas as the Mtarfa side pipped ahead after three minutes of play and never fell again behind.

A 13-point run in the last four minutes of the first quarter had Depiro open a 32-16 lead as guard Cameron Cornelius (19 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals) was controlling the rhythm and notching hoops together with centre Kameron Rooks and Sean Galea.

This margin between the two sides remained constant till the interval and matters did not change much for most of the third quarter save for the last moments of the same rubber when Mellieħa, who were without the services of Connor Zinaich, had a good run with buckets from Sebastian Valencia and captain David Bugeja.

Depiro quickly regained their hold on the game when they set off the final quarter on a positive note with buckets from Rooks and Miguel Mallia moving them to a commanding 81-60 lead.

Hibernians were much in the game versus Luxol till the very early minutes of the second half with the score 47-49 in the 23rd minute following an Anton Axiaq (16 points, 13 rebounds) free throw.

Gradually, by the end of the third rubber, Luxol started opening up a small lead as hoops from their top-scoring tandem Tayler Mattos (12 rebounds, three assists, three steals) and Trevian Bell (22 points, nine rebounds, nine assists), who shared 49 points between them as well as buckets from Stefan Capello, Nikola Vasovic and Jean Paul Schembri helped them to a 64-55 advantage with ten minutes to go.

The Violets dominated the early part of the final quarter as they extended their lead to a massive 31 points, 89-58 with Marko Matijevic also contributing 10 points and nine rebounds.

Although Hibs, who always had centre Ivan Demcesen (34 points, 16 boards, and two blocks) a threat under the Luxol boards, managed to decrease a bit the final deficit.

The men’s League will take a short break this coming weekend as the spotlight will be on the Louis Borg Cup finals, played on two legs within the space of 48 hours.

The finalists are Luxol and Mellieħa with the first game scheduled for Friday at 6.15pm and the second on Sunday at 3.45pm.

Starlites FIJO 98
Gżira Athleta 90
(25-17, 21-31,25-22, 27-20)

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 17, Z. Owens 8, J. Bates 21, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 16, R. Carabott 2, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb, N. Sultana, D. George 28
Athleta: H. Van Herk 18, F. Mifsud Bonnici 3, N. Buhagiar, P. Shoults 6, L. Stefanovic 2, J. Ellul Dowling 7, N. Xuereb 15, R. Griffin 31, I. Xuereb 2, R. Abela, B. Zammit 6
Referees: F. Ciurariu, B. Mrkojevic.

Depiro 84
Mellieħa Libertas 71
(32-16, 15-15, 19-24, 18-16)

Depiro: S. Galea 10, J. Micallef, N. Grech 1, A. Attard 2, K. Rooks 30, M. Mallia 18, C. Cornelius 19, A. Micallef, K. Caruana 4.
Mellieha: S. Zammit, M. Falzon 3, D. Bugeja 17, R. Bonnici 2, V. Jandric 3, I. Bonett 10, N. Bukva, N. Jovanovic 7, M. Formosa 6, O. Said 7, S. Valencia 16.

Referees: B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, B. Mrkojevic.

BUPA Luxol 95
Hibernians 71
(23-21, 22-19, 19-15, 31-16)

Luxol: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic 15, M. Sciberras 2, T. Bell 22, JP Schembri 6, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, T. Mattos 27, M. Matijevic 12, S. Cappello 11.
Hibs: N. Cassar 5, P. Attard, L. Farrugia 8, L. Borg, A. Axiaq 16, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 6, M. Bezzina, I. Demcesen 36, G. Cassar.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi.

Standings: Mellieħa (10/4) 24; Starlites (9/5) 23; Depiro (-3) (9/5) 20; Luxol (6/8) 20; Gżira Athleta (4/10) 18; Hibs (-3) (4/10) 15.

NEXT GAMES

MARCH 18
Mellieħa vs Gżira Athleta 15.45
MARCH 19
Hibernians vs Depiro 12.00
Starlites vs BUPA Luxol 16.00

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