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Starlites FIJO win first Knock Out title

Alec Felice Pace lifts the trophy in front of a jubilant Starlites clan. Photo: Wally Galea

Starlites FIJO 112
Mellieħa Libertas 86
(25-24, 25-22, 31-29, 31-11)

Starlites FIJO secured their first Knock Out title when they overcame Mellieħa Liberta 112-86 at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion on Sunday.

Six points separated the two sides at the end of the third quarter and up to that juncture, play had been quite balanced, even though Starlites enjoyed the lead most of the time.

Eleven straight points at the start of the final quarter spearheaded Starlites to a 92-75 advantage and put them right on track towards victory.

The final score gives a wrong indication of the real progression of the game as it was only in the final minutes that the Naxxar side opened the final considerable lead.

The game had a slow start even though Starlites’ skipper Alec Felice Pace (59% shooting for 18 points and six assists) had a very early hoop. Two minutes later, after a brace of baskets from Sebastian Valencia (double-double with 58% shooting and 27 points added with 15 rebounds and five assists) and Vukasin Jandric, Mellieħa had their only lead in the game, at 4-3.

Two Ian Felice Pace (three from six long-range shots) treys gave Starlites their first breathing space and later hoops from their imports Zekiah Owens (selected as the game’s MVP with a double-double of 15 points, 11 rebounds, and a game-high eight assists) and Darius George, the teams’ top scorer with 26 points at 78% accuracy, nine boards and four assists, had them 18-9 in front.

Despite this initial setback, Mellieħa did reply and started finding their way against Starlites’ press, and buckets from David Bugeja and treys from Valencia and Jandric (20 points with 58% shooting and three from eight threeball attempts) made it a very tight 25-24 at the end of the first quarter.

A brace of long rangers from Matthew Scerri and another from Alec Felice Pace added with a Jacob Bates and-one play, had Starlites open the first double-digit lead in the final at 39-28 and this gap between the sides remained the same for a few minutes.

Late in the half, nine back-to-back points from Valencia re-opened the game at 46-47 and play remained balanced till the initial minutes of the second half.

After Jandric had again moved Mellieħa back to a solitary point after a trey, Starlites had their guard Matt Attard land two three-balls within 30 seconds of each other.

The northerners tried to claw back again in the game, yet points off George and a trey from Alec Felice Pace moved Starlites again to a double-digit surplus, 66-55.

A strong final minute in the third period helped Mellieħa to narrow the deficit as they poured in a 7-0 streak off Valencia and five points, including a trey, from Nenad Bukva.

The start of the final rubber saw Starlites’ influential 11-0 run with all points, save one hoop, coming off George.

Bugeja broke Mellieha’s drought with a brace of mid-rangers but Starlites’ reply was immediate with George continuing to find the basket.

Another Attard trey moved the Naxxar side over the century mark as the game was now done and dusted.

After the game, the MOC general secretary Kevin Azzopardi accompanied by MBA president Paul Sultana presented the winning medals to the Starlites squad as well as the KO Final’s Most Valuable Player award to Zekiah Owens.

The BOV KO trophy was then handed by Stefan Abela, on behalf of the sponsors, to Starlites’ captain Alec Felice Pace.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 18, Z. Owens 15, M. Attard 13, J. Bates 6, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri 7, L. Riolo 2, M. Scerri 11, R. Carabott, K. Xuereb 3, N. Sultana 2, D. George 26.
Mellieha: M. Falzon, D. Bugeja 21, R. Bonnici 2, V. Jandric 20, I. Bonett 2, N. Bukva 10, N. Jovanovic 2, M. Formosa 2, O. Said, S. Valencia 27.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic.

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