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Depiro stun Mellieħa as Starlites draw first blood in this season’s playoffs

Depiro’s Miguel Brincat rises to the hoop over Mellieha’s Sebastian Valencia. Photo: Wally Galea

The post-regular season set off last weekend as the BOV Play-Offs got underway with game one of the semi-final phase played on a best-of-three format.

The first semi-final had to be decided after overtime as regular league winners Mellieha Libertas and fourth-placed Depiro closed regulation time at par, 82-82, and it was then a very late Kameron Rooks fast break dunk that gave the Mtarfa side an initial lead in the series.

In the other tie, reigning champions Starlites FIJO took a 1-0 lead over BUPA Luxol with a superior performance in
the last quarter of the game after a very balanced first three rubbers.

The second game in both series will be played on Sunday with the pressure now fully on Mellieħa and Luxol respectively as both these teams know well enough that only a win can keep their playoff hopes alive.

(after overtime 82-82; 13-20, 27-22, 24-19, 18-21, 8-9)

Depiro enjoyed the lead throughout practically all of the first half, save for a tied 34-34 scoreline late in the second quarter.

Guards Cameron Cornelius and Sean Galea had the Mtarfa side race to an early 12-2 lead. Although Mellieħa eventually started putting up numbers through Vukasin Jandric, Nenad Bukva, and Sebastian Valencia, Depiro did not cease offensively and buckets from centre Kameron Rooks had them close the first rubber enjoying a 20-13 lead.

The margin rose momentarily to double digits after early Kieron Caruana points for Depiro but, gradually, Mellieħa started gnawing away at the deficit with a Nikola Jovanovic trey and baskets from David Bugeja as well as the high-scoring Valencia, who had 37 points.

The half-time buzzer saw Depiro ahead with a marginal two-point buffer after late treys from Miguel Brincat.

An 11-2 Mellieħa run midway in the third quarter had the northerners move to an almost double-digit advantage at 58-49 but even though they had treys from Jovanivic and Jandric, Depiro showed character as they closed the gap to minus three points by the end of the third quarter as they netted treys from Cornelius and Brincat as well as close range Rooks hoops.

There was a series of lead changes midway through the fourth quarter.

A Valencia and-one play after a Bugeja fast break hoop had Mellieħa 81-76 ahead with just over two minutes to go.

A Miguel Mallia corner trey gave hope to Depiro and then Rooks (26 points, 29 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) made it a tied game 18 seconds from the end of regulation time.

Mellieħa had a final possession, but their hoop came slightly after the buzzer.

The five-minute overtime period was a tight battle with neither side managing to distance itself.
Cornelius penetrated and made a lay-up to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to go.

Jandric was fouled at the other end four seconds later and netted the first of two free throws.

Depiro got the rebound off the second free throw and Cornelius offered an assist to Rooks to score a dunk, at the other end, with less than a second to go as Mellieħa then did not have time to reply.

MELLIEHA: M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 15, R. Bonnici 3, V. Jandric 13, I. Bonett 4, N. Bukva 4, N. Jovanovic 12, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 37.
DEPIRO: S. Galea 10, J. Micallef, N. Grech 4, A. Attard, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 26, M. Brincat 14, M. Mallia 3, C. Cornelius 20, A. Micallef, M. Debattista, K. Caruana 14.
Referees: B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, J. Londono.

(17-14, 21-19, 17-21, 18-12)

This game had a somewhat cautious start at both ends. Darius George and Alec Felice Pace notched two early hoops for Starlites as the latter moved to an 8-3 lead two minutes later after Zekiah Owens first basket with Jean Paul Schembri scoring a trey for Luxol in between.

The Violets began to find their rhythm and even managed to grab their first lead with a Trevian Bell three-ball after a Stefan Capello hoop from inside the key.

The first quarter saw the Naxxar side jump ahead in the lead at 17-14 but Luxol had Nikola Vasovic (45% shooting) grabbing five points at the start of the second quarter. Then, a bucket from Marko Matijevic and treys from Bell who almost grabbed a triple-double (14 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists), and Capello who finished with a double-double (13 points, 13 boards) moved the violets to their largest game lead, 25-20.

Starlites’ reply was three back-to-back treys from George and a brace from the returning Matt Attard (two of four from long range) to make Luxol’s earlier lead short-lived.

Luxol managed to get the game back at par, 33-33, but late points from George (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Kurt Xuereb helped Starlites to a 38-33 half-time lead.

The third quarter was a real tussle. Starlites managed to hold onto their slender lead for the first part but then a 12-2 Luxol streak had them again take the upper hand at 52-47.

The last quarter started with just a single point separating the two sides but here, Starlites made an important move
towards the win as they outscored their opponents 12-4, through George and Alec Felice Pace in just over 2 minutes.

Luxol were now under pressure to recover the lost ground but points were not plentiful in the final stages of the game.

Luxol did have a Bell trey and a Tayler Mattos alley-oop, but Starlites kept their cool and controlled the tempo to take the lead in this series.

STARLITES: A. Felice Pace 12, Z. Owens 13, M. Attard 6, J. Bates 3, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 4, D. George 30.
LUXOL: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic 15, M. Sciberras 2, T. Bell 14, JP Schembri 11, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, T. Mattos 7, M. Matijevic 4, S. Cappello 13.
Referees: D. Torok, I. Simic, F. Ciurariu.


Luxol vs Starlites 12.00
Depiro vs Mellieħa 16.00

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