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Mellieħa win decider to set up Starlites showdown in Playoff finals

Mellieħa’s Vukasin Jandric goes for the basket against Depiro. Photo: Wally Galea

Mellieħa Libertas came out on top in the deciding game three of the semi-final play-off series against Depiro to proceed to the final.

Depiro had emerged winners in game one but then Mellieħa recorded back-to-back wins to take the three-game series 2-1. The northerners will now move to the BOV 2023 Championship series against reigning champions Starlites FIJO on a best-of-five format.

Mellieħa Libertas 74
Depiro 63
(18-25, 16-15, 26-16, 14-7)

Two treys inside the first 90 seconds of play from Robert Bonnici (38 per cent shooting, nine rebounds) and Isaac Bonett (eight rebounds, five assists) respectively, gave Mellieħa the first lead in the game.

But Depiro turned the tables around with a 10-0 run in the mid-art of the first quarter as centre Kameron Rooks (19 rebounds and 70 per cent accuracy for 17 points) notched his first points in the game amidst a Miguel Brincat long-distance hoop.

Vukasin Jandric replied with a three-ball from four in the game (four of 11 from the long range) at the opposite end but Cameron Cornelius, who had a double-double game with 26 points and 14 defensive rebounds as well as a game-high seven assists, kept Depiro’s positive momentum. His mid-range jumpers and penetrations helped the Mtarfa side to a 19-11 lead.

Mellieħa’s response was seven back-to-back points through Nenad Bukva (eight rebounds, three assists) and Bonett, leading to a momentary one-point game for 20 seconds until Depiro managed to establish another slender lead by the buzzer of the initial quarter as a brace of Sean Galea hoops (two assists, two steals) followed a spectacular Cornelius dunk for a 25-18 score.

The second quarter was a balanced affair although Depiro maintained the lead all throughout the ten minutes of effective play.

Despite early Mellieħa hoops from Jandric and Sebastian Valencia (50% accuracy and seven rebounds, three steals), Depiro still kept their composure and, with Cornelius finding space and doing most of the offensive damage whilst Rooks was closely marked under boards, they even had a game-high nine-point lead at 32-23.

This quarter also had a swap of referees due to an injury to one of the officials. Treys from David Bugeja (team-high six assists and five rebounds) and Nikola Jovanovic helped the Northerners to marginally close the gap to six points at the interval.

Mellieħa managed to somewhat, albeit marginally, turn the tables in the third quarter. They had a good start after the change of ends with an 11-2 run, with long rangers from Bugeja, Bonett, and Valencia.

But Depiro immediately sprung back through Rooks and Miguel Mallia.

A strong seventh and eighth minute 8-1 streak helped Mellieħa to gain more confidence as they then managed to close the third quarter enjoying a four-point buffer, 60-56.

The final period of play was dry of points, especially from Depiro’s end. They did come to just a mere point behind after a Brincat trey, 61-52, but Mellieħa, who managed to almost balance out in the rebounds game (47-50) against their opponents, kept a slender lead going after more buckets from Bukva and Valencia.

Depiro’s last hoop of the season arrived four and a half minutes from time when Cornelius’ jumper made it a three-point game, 63-66 but from then on it was only Mellieħa who found the net, even if not consistently.

A Jandric three-ball boosted the northerners’ psyche and the same player ascertained his side’s win with a further trey and hoop in the seventh minute of the quarter. The three-point shooting percentage was another factor in this game as Mellieħa had 15 treys from 48 attempts (31%) whereas Depiro were not so accurate with 14% and just four three-balls from 29 shots in the game.

This proved to be Depiro’s swansong for the season and they are expected to regroup to then prepare for the coming season whereas Mellieha now brace themselves for a number of clashes with rivals Starlites.

However the first tussle will not be the start of the Championship Play-Off series, on a best-of-five format, but the Knock-Out final which will be played this Sunday.

Mellieħa: D. Bugeja 10, R. Bonnici 13, V. Jandric 16, I. Bonett 8, N. Bukva 7, N. Jovanovic 6, M. Formosa. O. Said, S. Valencia
Depiro: S. Galea 4, J. Micallef, A. Attard, S. Kenely, K. Rooks 17, M. Brincat 6, M. Mallia 8, C. Cornelius 26, A. Micallef, M. Debattista, K. Caruana 2.
Referees: Bernard Vassallo (substituted by Nicholas Azzopardi),
Gordon Barbara, Zvezdan Dobrosavljevic.

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