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Watch: Malta U-18s suffer opening day defeat to Azerbaijan at FIBA European Championships

Malta's Matthew Sciberras (left) looks for the open lane against Azerbaijan. Photo: FIBA

Fourth quarter surge gives host country first win

MALTA              54

AZERBAIJAN   73

(15-19, 15-15, 18-16, 6-23)

The Malta Under-18 men’s team started off their FIBA European Championships Division C campaign with a tough loss to hosts Azerbaijan on Saturday.

It was a defeat that was characterised by a fourth-quarter surge by the Azeris after three very close quarters in which coach Duncan Fenech’s clan managed to spend time in the lead as well.

Malta’s Connor James led the game’s scoring with 22 points, adding eight rebounds to his final statistics. Adam Azzopardi followed with 12 points and five rebounds. Isaac Xuereb was alert under the boards to grab 10 rebounds.

Malta Under-16 players Malcolm Buttigieg de Piro and Sebastian Pace were rewarded for their efforts this past week in Kosovo with another call-up to the next age group and both were involved in the team’s opening tie.

For Azerbaijan, Rafael Aghayev scored 16 points and grabbed 20 boards to finish with a double-double. Murad Babayev added 15 points and 11 rebounds for another double-double. Nijat Nasirov rounded the double-digit scoring with 10 points.

The game took on a balanced opening, with both sides starting strong. However, it was Azerbaijan who finished the first quarter in the lead, up by four points at the first buzzer.

The second quarter was similar with the sides going tit for tat, scoring 15 points each by the halftime break to carry the four-point differential from the first rubber.

Azzopardi brought the game to within a point as Malta looked to bring it back to parity after a particularly even first half. James levelled and Azzopardi gave Malta the lead with six minutes to go as both teams were called into their benches for a time-out.

Right after, Azerbaijan switched leads with a Babayev three-ball but James drove to the hoop to equalise again.

With three minutes to go, the Azeris went on a 4-0 run with Jordan Ellul Dowling hitting one of two freethrows to keep the margin at three.

The fourth quarter began with trouble for Malta as accurate offence from Azerbaijan led them to open a 10-point gap in the first three minutes. Eventually, the margin became 14 as the final 10 minutes were nothing short of impressive for the side. Malta’s players attempted to counter but were held to just six points as the Azeris added another five to complete the win.

Malta face Moldova next on Monday (tip-off: 10.30am).

MALTA

A. Azzopardi 12, S. Pace 3, M. Sciberras, A. Sultana 2, A. Trapani 3, L. Attard, I. Azzopardi 4, M. Buttigieg de Piro, J. Ellul Dowling 6, C. James 22, S. Kenely, I. Xuereb 2.

AZERBAIJAN

M. Babayev 15, R. Garayev, A. Ibrahimov, A. Mammadov 8, N. Nasirov 10, R. Aghayev 16, H. Asgarli, D. berkoz, A. Cevahir, H. Gaflanov 3, A. Mammadli 9, T. Yusifzada 4.

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