First honour of new Malta basketball season
Mellieha Libertas 75
Starlites JSD 79
(13-23, 17-19, 29-21)
Starlites JSD lifted the first trophy of the new campaign when they beat Mellieha Libertas to the MBA Super Cup last weekend.
The curtain-raiser to a season that will see seven sides battle it out for the Maltese basketball crown was just as expected with the title holders Starlites and runners-up, and the only other cup winner last season besides the Naxxar side, Mellieha showing off their summer’s preparation to an enthusiastic crowd at the Ta’ Qali pavilion on Sunday.
Asked about the game, Starlites coach Paul Ferrante told the Times of Malta that his side “started the season off with a bang”.
“It was the first game of the season and we started with a bang because we started immediately with a final,” Ferrante said.
“We had three different import players compared to last year. (Mellieha) had Vule (Jandric) who not only is still with them but is now also ‘Maltese’ – he’s playing as a local. Added to that, were another two foreigners who are of a high level.”
In fact, it was US imports Tedrick Wolfe and Kwame Thompson who led Mellieha’s scoring on the day, both players having been brought over the summer into coach Ian Terribile’s roster. Wolfe had a phenomenal debut, putting up 29 points – shooting 64% from the field – as Thompson followed with 24.
“I think Mellieha were a good challenge to us and I think it will be the little things which will make the difference,” Ferrante explained.
“The league will be a great one as will be the competitions. This is a plus, then the best team and more importantly the one who can maintain those details will be the team who will fare best.”
A high-tempo opening gave energy to the much-anticipated tie with Starlites taking a seven-point lead midway through the first quarter.
Felice Pace brothers Alec and Ian contributed to close to 11 of Starlites’ opening points as Kurt Xuereb, together with new import signings Davonte Craven and Christian Hickson made it a 10-point lead at the end of the first rubber.
This was a sign of what was to come as Starlites captain Alec Felice Pace went on to have a game to remember with 100% shooting from two-point range to lead his side with 21 points. Hinckson, a starter on his debut with the club, finished with 17 points.
In the second quarter, Mellieha opted to drive harder into the paint with Thompson – who joined the side over the summer – and David Bugeja the main targets for possession. The pair managed to win numerous fouls from possessions but their efforts from the line were far from accurate.
At the other end of the court, Matt Attard hit his first three of the day as Craven and Malik Lorquet both were on form from two-point range.
The game began to show signs of balance between the two teams ahead of the break but Starlites maintained their double-digit lead at the buzzer.
The second half showed off the physical nature of the encounter as the two sides continued to battle each other but yet again, Starlites looked the stronger side and pushed the lead to 17 points six minutes into the quarter.
New import signing Wolfe was Mellieha’s powerhouse on offence, leading his team’s scoring, and a three-ball began to give hope to his side who reduced the deficit to eight with 2.31 minutes remaining.
Fast break scores from Thompson, who risked an early ending to his game with an awkward fall under the hoop, and Robert Bonnici made it a six-point game as the Starlites’ dominance began to fade. With 13.7 seconds to go, Mellieha benefitted off a pair of missed Xuereb freethrows to go on another fastbreak as Thompson’s speed was key to another basket for the Northerners as the third quarter finished at 59-63.
Mellieha duo Thompson and Eduardo Valdespina brought it to the closest margin of the game as Starlites led by two. But Hinckson made it five with a three-ball and Alec Felice Pace scored another four points off the contact to reopen the gap.
Wolfe and Jandric managed to trim it back down to six as the former was one shot away from being perfect from the line – eight of nine by the end of the game – with 2.43 to go in the game. Thompson made it a four-point deficit after an intercepted pass from the restart as Wolfe headed back to the line to make it a two.
Ian Felice Pace broke Mellieha’s hearts however, when he hit his first three-pointer of the game as the final minute and a half promised to give fans an electric finale. But as much as Mellieha tried to get the last-gasp victory, it was Starlites who celebrated the Super Cup victory.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS: A. Veselinovic, T. Wolfe 29, D. Bugeja 7, R. Bonnici 6, V. Jandric 7, I. Bonett, R. Carabott, K. Skrabec, M. Formosa, K. Thompson 24, E. Valdespina 2, C. Mercurio.
STARLITES JSD: A. Felice Pace 21, C. Hinckson17, M. Attard 6, S. Aquilina, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, M. Palmier, D. Craven 10, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 10, N. Sultana, M. Lorquet 10.
Officials: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, A. Bayraktar.
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