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Mellieħa Libertas on top after regular season finale

Hibernians’ Ivan Demcesen (left) in a duel with Kameron Rooks. Photo: Wally Galea

The last game day of the BOV Men’s League regular season was played over the weekend with Mellieħa Libertas having the honour of claiming the regular season winners title although the main prize sought by each team is eventually the Play-Off Finals.

The post-season commences this Sunday as the semi-final pairings were set following the outcome of the last game day where two teams who were already out of the playoff race grabbed victories.

First, it was Gżira Athleta who closed their commitments with a resolute performance against Mellieħa.

With Hibernians also saying farewell to their season with an overtime win over Depiro, the latter had to settle for fourth place in the final standings and now will face Mellieħa in the semi-final series.

Starlites FIJO and BUPA Luxol crossed each other in the last scheduled game aware that they will face each other in the semi-final round. Luxol, for the third consecutive time in the space of a few weeks, ended up as winners and heading to the post-season with a psychological edge.

Mellieħa Libertas 85
Gżira Athleta 88
(29-28, 10-19, 22-16, 24-25)

Gżira Athleta closed their commitments with a hard-fought win over Mellieħa Libertas.

Luca Stefanovic gave Athleta a 5-0 lead inside the first two minutes with an initial lay-up followed by a trey.
Sebastian Valencia, the game’s top scorer with 24 points, notched a threeball at the other end but in spite of it being followed by a hoop from the northerners’ skipper David Bugeja – author of a triple-double – Gżira replied again through Stefanovic.

Mellieħa, who in midweek lost American Connor Zinaich for the rest of the season after being diagnosed with ACL and meniscus-related issues, had the first hoops from Vukasin Jandric but Athleta still managed to hold on to their lead, Nathan Xuereb grabbing a trey and free throws.

The first quarter continued at a fast pace as the two sides were then tied 14-14 in the fifth minute.

Despite Gżira having the first buckets from their two import players, Roland Griffin and Henry van Herk, it was Mellieħa that grabbed the first small lead, 25-21, with Robert Bonnici banging in two consecutive treys to give his team a marginal 29-28 lead.

The second quarter had many fewer points but in it, Gżira Athleta notched an impressive 17-point streak to open a handsome 45-29 lead.

Mellieħa broke their point drought with a Bukva lay-up after almost seven dry minutes and then managed to bring the halftime deficit to a single figure, 39-47, after eight straight points from Valencia.

After the teams changed sides, Athleta maintained their single-digit lead throughout the third rubber, but the lead fizzled down to 63-61, with ten minutes to go.

Mellieħa had a brighter start in the final quarter and a Bugeja and-one fourth-minute play put them, albeit momentarily, in front, 71-69.

Athleta replied on a strong note as they scored ten consecutive points to reopen an eight-point lead.

The game was, however, not over as Libertas brought the score to par, 81-81, and even, shortly afterwards, opened a four-point lead after a Jandric trey.

Trailing 81-85 with 92 seconds to go, Athleta showed character, and a Mifsud Bonnici threeball was followed by a Shoults steal that ended with a fast break hoop.

Facing a slender deficit, Mellieħa tried their best but missed their attempts whilst Athleta scored a free throw off an out-of-bounds technical and another two seconds afterwards.

Mellieħa: M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 18, R. Bonnici 17, V. Jandric 10, I. Bonett 4, N. Bukva 8, N. Jovanovic 2, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 24.
Athleta: H. Van Herk 22, F. Mifsud Bonnici 11, N. Buhagiar 9, P. Shoults 9, L. Stefanovic 11, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 13, R. Griffin 8, I. Xuereb, R. Abela, I. Medved 5, B. Zammit.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi, I. Simic

Hibernians 106
Depiro 100
(after overtime; 17-14, 16-21, 27-28, 29-26, 17-11)

This game resulted in a high-scoring overtime affair with Hibs having more time in the lead in the first half, including a double-digit 12-2 early advantage, only for Depiro to go ahead for the first time in the final seconds of the half.
They then maintained a slight lead in the third rubber going up to a maximum of 51-44 and later 68-62 with eight minutes to go.

Hibs got the game to par shortly afterwards and seemed also destined to notch a win by regulation time when they opened a four-point 87-83 lead with less than a minute to go after a Luke Farrugia lay-up and a brace of hoops from their tall centre Ivan Demcesen.

Demcesen was again one of the main kingpins of the side, shooting at 82% mainly from close range and seven of seven from the charity line, to sum up a tally of 45 points added with 20 rebounds and two assists.

At the same time, Farrugia also had possibly his best game this season ending with a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and a game-high 11 assists.

He had to face another seven-foot giant, Depiro’s Kameron Rooks who also had an impressive statistical performance, registering a double-double with a game-high 26 boards, seven blocked shots, five steals, seven assists, and 36 points scored.

Trailing by four points with the clock ticking away, Depiro scored a six-point run with a Nicholas Grech and-one play followed by a Cameron Cornelius central long-ranger.

Demcesen forced the game into overtime when he rebounded off an Axiaq missed shot and scored a hoop from right under the basket with six seconds to go with Depiro’s Sean Galea missing a last-gasp attempt at the final buzzer.

Miguel Mallia grabbed the first hoop, with a mid-range jumper from the left, in the five added minutes to give the Mtarfa side what resulted to be their last lead.

Two treys from Matthew Attard, the first after an Anton Axiaq offensive rebound and the second from a lucky bank shot off the board, gave impetus to Hibs as further buckets, later in the next minute, from Demcesen and Neil Cassar moved them 100-95 ahead.

Time was now against Depiro and Hibs managed to administer the last possessions to end the season, where they started with a minus three-point deduction, on a high note.

Hibs: N. Cassar 18, P. Attard, D. Brincat Dowdall, L. Farrugia 14, L. Borg, A. Axiaq 7, R. Aquilina 1, M. Attard 21, M. Bezzina, I. Demcesen 45, G. Cassar.
Depiro: S. Galea 8, J. Micallef, N. Grech 12, A. Attard 1, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 36, M. Mallia 15, C. Cornelius 22, A. Micallef, M. Debattista 6.
Referees: N. Azzopardi, F. Ciurariu, B. Mrkojevic.

Starlites FIJO 78
BUPA Luxol 87
(22-23, 20-13, 25-30, 11-21)

The last game of the regular season was decided in the last quarter when Luxol, who were trailing for much of the game, managed to outscore their opponents 21-11, opening up a late double-digit lead at 87-71, which proved decisive.

Luxol had four players in double figures. Trevian Bell was most on the court and ended with 23 points. Tayler Mattos was the best rebounder of the game with 12, chalking up 20 points and four assists.

Jean Paul Schembri and Juan Cefai had two of two from the three-point range whilst Nikola Vasovic had 12 points.

At the other end, Zekiah Owens had 34 minutes on the court and netted 26 points, six rebounds, three steals and four assists.

Matthew Scerri and Jacob Bates also had three steals in the game whilst Darius George contributed 13 points and seven rebounds. However, Starlites’ shooting percentage was not high – 39% against Luxol’s 52%.

These two sides will surely go back to the drawing board, with their play callers Paul Ferrante and Duncan Fenech respectively, this week in preparation for their semifinal play-off series clash.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 4, Z. Owens 26, J. Bates 8, I. Felice Pace 7, M. Fabri 2, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 10, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb 6, N. Sultana, D. George 13.
Luxol: J. Cefai 6, N. Vasovic 12, M. Sciberras 6, T. Bell 23, JP Schembri 10, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, T. Mattos 20, M. Matijevic 8, S. Cappello 2.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, N. Azzopardi, B. Mrkojevic.

Final standings: Mellieħa Libertas (10/5) 25; Starlites Fijo (9/6) 24; BUPA Luxol (7/8) 22; Depiro (-3) (9/6) 21; Gżira Athleta (5/10) 20; Hibernians (-3) (5/10) 17.

Mellieħa Libertas vs Depiro 12.00
Starlites vs BUPA Luxol 16.00

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