Malta had to settle for silver at this year’s Games of the Small States of Europe after falling to 77-ranked Luxembourg in the final at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion on Saturday.
It was a final for the ages and Malta could have produced the comeback of a lifetime were it not for a late surge by the visitors.
As customary as it seemed throughout the Games, where scoring has kicked off with a three-pointer mostly every game, Luxembourg’s Alec Laurent did so again with the first shot of the game. Eventually, Tevin Falzon replied with one of his own to equalise immediately.
Both sides swapped threes throughout the quarter with Luxembourg finding open spaces as Malta’s defence elected to guard the paint. This became an issue later in the quarter as Malta gave Luxembourg the bonus while fouling at the second chance point efforts with a minute to go.
The game was tied at 20-20 after Aaron Falzon missed one and made two other freethrows in a three-point play before the buzzer sounded at the end of the first ten minutes.
Malta looked in trouble throughout the second quarter as players went cold while Luxembourg went on a scoring run. Josh Tomasi stopped this with a dunk and a three-point play to keep Malta within three points.
Luxembourg continued to profit off the loose marking from Malta’s defenders, increasing the gap to ten at the end of the half.
After the break, David Bugeja hit first but Luxembourg kept up and made it a 16-point lead with an 8-0 run.
The visitors looked a class above and they made it count as midway through the quarter Luxembourg were 18 points ahead as Malta looked stuck.
The fourth quarter would have to be redemption for Malta as Luxembourg were close to the 20-point lead mark. Slowly, Malta began to work at shortening the deficit while Luxembourg missed a number of their freethrows. Sam Deguara was instrumental at the other end, on the receiving end of long passes after defensive stops to bring it back down to 12.
Bugeja made it 10 with 7.48 remaining and Tevin Falzon sent it home from three as a comeback looked on the cards. Eric Washington made it five a minute later as Malta’s confidence grew. Malta were finally back to their best shape and the game was back on.
Washington made it just a one-point game with half of the quarter to go and the pavilion erupted as he hit from three to give Malta its first lead of the game. This was, however, a lead that lasted just a few seconds as Luxembourg replied with another threeball, winning a three-point play on the next possession.
Setting Malta back was foul trouble yet again with Aaron Falzon fouling out for the third straight game in this competition.
Luxembourg somehow regained composure, climbing back up to 10 points ahead with the last minute remaining as both sides were in the bonus. Washington managed to down a freethrow with seconds remaining but it was Luxembourg’s gold at these games.
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