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Starlites reach play-offs final as Mellieħa force decider

Starlites’ Alec Felice Pace goes for the basket against BUPA Luxol. Photo: Wally Galea

The two games from the BOV Semi-Final Play-Off series last weekend had different outcomes.

Champions Starlites FIJO closed off their series with a second win over BUPA Luxol but the other tie is still well alive after the Mellieħa neutralised Depiro’s first-game win.

With the semi-finals series played with a best-of-three format, these two sides will feature in the decisive showdown on Saturday.

BUPA Luxol 74
Starlites FIJO 91
(18-23, 17-25, 23-22, 16-21)

Starlites FIJO booked their spot in the final Series when they beat BUPA Luxol for the second time in seven days to take the best-of-three tie 2-0.

The Naxxar side neutralised an initial Luxol hoop from Nikola Vasovic after just 12 seconds, and then held the lead for the remainder of the first half, including a double-digit positive buffer several times.

Five points from Zekiah Owens, Starlites’ top scorer in the game with 42 per cent shooting, set them going on a game-max 12-point run between the first and third minute.

Alec Felice Pace landed a trey followed by a close-ranger and then Darius George (eight rebounds and three assists) netted his first hoop of the game off a dunk.

Finding themselves ten points behind, 2-12, at such an early stage, Luxol tried to recoup their efforts and gradually came back to a close margin after a brace of Tayler Mattos hoops from inside the key and a trey from Trevian Bell (double-double, 21 points, 10 rebounds) followed by a hoop after a Starlites turnover.

Back-to-back buckets from Marko Matijevic, who had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, in the eighth minute, then made it a 15-19 game.

At the start of the second quarter, a second Juan Cefai long ranger brought Luxol, momentarily, a three-pointer away but three baskets from close range, by Starlites’ foreign legion Owens, George, and Jacob Bates, distanced the reigning champions 32-23 in front.

The game tempo did not change much till the half-time buzzer and the two sides were separated by 13 points, 48-35.

Luxol mentor Duncan Fenech’s half-time pep-talk must have worked a bit as the Violets came out storming in the early part of the third quarter with a poker of treys with Bell and Vasovic netting a brace each. With Starlites completely dry in the first three minutes, it was now an open one-point game.

Despite a George three-ball, Luxol managed to get a marginal 52-51 lead after another Bell three-pointer and a Matijevic off-the-board hook shot.

Luxol’s fine moment was, however, thwarted by their opponents as Starlites hit back strongly with a 9-0 streak in the next three minutes and Luxol, also guilty of many turnovers in the game, suddenly had to again face a double-digit deficit which increased to 70-56 late in the third rubber.

When Starlites, who outnumbered Luxol 17-1 in steals in this game, commenced the last quarter with seven points on the trot, through a Kurt Xuereb trey and a brace of hoops from the Felice Pace brothers, Alec and Ian.

Luxol seemed a subdued lot as now they were facing an almost 20-point mountain to climb.

They did try to put in some fight, also with a brace of Jean Paul Schembri treys, but Starlites were now in the driving seat and managed to neutralise Luxol’s efforts to move to the finals series.

Luxol: J. Cefai 7, N. Vasovic 8, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 21, JP Schembri 6, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, T. Mattos 17, M. Matijevic 15, S. Cappello.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 18, Z. Owens 21, M. Attard 6, J. Bates 8, I. Felice Pace 12, M. Fabri, L. Riolo 2, M. Scerri 5, R. Carabott, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 3, D. George 16.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, F. Ciurariu.

Depiro 73
Mellieħa Libertas 85
(23-24, 12-15, 24-22, 14-24)

With the lead changing hands many times along the game, and, despite also Mellieħa, twice, opening a 10-point lead in the mid-part of the game, this tie was essentially an open one and could have been anyone’s game.

In fact, with just under five minutes to play, the score was at par, 69-69.

In the next 90 seconds, the northerners managed to reopen a five-point buffer after a Vukasin Jandric (four treys on the day with 31% shooting, seven rebounds, three assists) three-pointer and a Sebastian Valencia lay-up afterwards.

Depiro import guard Cameron Cornelius (48% accuracy for 26 points and eight rebounds) kept Depiro’s hopes
alive with a mid-ranger for 71-74 with three minutes on the clock.

A whole 75 seconds passed by with no score on either side of the court until Nenad Bukva (six rebounds, two assists) landed a trey and then, off a turnover, added a hoop to put great pressure on Depiro who now found themselves staring at an eight-point deficit with 80 seconds to the final buzzer.

Top scorer Kameron Rooks, with 38 points and a massive 28 rebounds, did grab a close-range bucket for the Mtarfa side but Mellieħa were now on the driving seat and closed the game for good through Valencia, double-double with 32 points and 16 rebounds, and Jandric.

The game had set off on a high-scoring and balanced note and only one point separated the two sides at the end of the first quarter, 24-23.

Points did somewhat dry up in the second rubber as Mellieħa, momentarily opened a 39-29 lead, after a brace of hoops from David Bugeja but late first-half points from Miguel Brincat and Rooks for Depiro made it a tighter 39-35 game at the interval.

Mellieħa, who managed to win the rebounds game 54-52, did again open a double-digit lead but, once again, Depiro showed their mettle and were back quickly into the game and the third quarter ended with just a basket between the two sides, 61-59.

Play was balanced right up to the 69-69 tied score with 4:42 to go and then Mellieħa made their move to win the game and force game three on Saturday.

Depiro: S. Galea 6, J. Micallef, A. Attard, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 36, M. Brincat 5, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 26, A. Micallef, M. Debattista, K. Caruana.
Mellieħa: S. Zammit, M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 13, R. Bonnici 6, V. Jandric 19, I. Bonett, N. Bukva 9, N. Jovanovic 6, M. Formosa, O. Said, S. Valencia 32.
Referees: D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic, B. Mrkojevic.

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