Starlites beat Luxol in final after fourth-quarter comeback
CAFFE MOAK LUXOL 66
STARLITES JSD 76
(22-17, 23-13, 14-21, 7-25)
The Maltese basketball season tipped off last weekend with the women’s Super Cup final at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion and it was Starlites JSD who took the season’s first honour as they beat Caffe Moak Luxol 76-66 with an incredible late comeback on Sunday.
It looked as though last season’s runners-up Luxol would cruise to victory, recording a lead of 23 points in the third quarter. However, the Naxxar side powered back into the game and turned the score in their favour in what coach Fatih Dedeoglu believes was a result of great character from his players.
“First of all, I have to congratulate all of my players for the effort that they showed. They showed really great character – to come back from 23 points down is not easy,” Dedeoglu told the Times of Malta.
Starlites’ US import Paige Cannon, who joined over the summer, led the side’s scoring on the day with 24 points, going close to 50% both from the field as well as three-point range.
However, it was a case of warming up as Luxol held firm to keep her quiet throughout the first half.
Starlites’ first-half contributions came mainly from captain Stephanie De Martino who put up 23 points in the game with a barrage of three-pointers. Andie Saliba was the other double-digit scorer on the day for the Naxxar side with an impressive performance to finish with 10 points.
Meanwhile, Luxol’s import player Tayler Bennett was her side’s protagonist with 25 points. Fenech Pace duo Sarah and Anna headed into the game with every opponent aware of their energy and potential and they continued to show this with 15 and 10 points respectively, before Anna Fenech Pace was fouled out in the second half.
“I knew in the beginning of the game that we prepared well but we couldn’t show it in the first half,” Dedeoglu said.
“It was the first game of the season, and they don’t know the foreigner (Cannon) very well yet and there is also a settling time for her as well.
“In addition to that, they are also adapting to a new system because they have a new coach. Even if you have the same team, you are changing the system so until they are used to it, we just don’t have the balance that we want to have.
“But when we went to the locker room at half-time, we said that we need to increase the aggressivity on defence because on offence, we were finding the scores but on defence, they were finding too many easy scores.
“So, we just worked on aggressivity on defence and I told them ‘Listen if you want to win this game, be aggressive and chase all the rebounds and let’s come back’.
“When we came back to around 10, we already knew we would win the game because we had all the momentum.
“This means a lot for the club because, to be honest, we want to win everything that we are taking part in.”
The game had a balanced opening but two De Martino threes separated the two sides in between makes from Luxol’s Anna Fenech Pace and Bennett.
From then onwards, it became a battle of long-range shooting as both sides traded threes and shots from the line with defence looking solid on both ends of the court.
In the second quarter, the modus operandi remained the same but on offence, Luxol began to steamroll into the paint with Bennett leading the charge. Where that didn’t work, they looked for outside players to punish Starlites from three.
A technical foul to Starlites coach Dedeolgu made things more intense as Anna Fenech Pace, who had been in good form throughout the opening minutes, hit home from the line with Luxol opening a 12-point cushion with half of the quarter gone.
As Luxol maintained their lead, Starlites’ offence was banking on the ever-consistent three-point scoring from De Martino who hit six of nine attempts in just the first half.
Meanwhile, Cannon was kept quiet as Luxol defenders double-teamed her at every Starlites possession.
Interestingly, throughout the first half, Starlites’ points came from three or from the line, with the side making no two-pointers.
The second half was a tough battle for Starlites as Luxol remained on the front foot and kept up a 13-point margin throughout the third quarter as Sarah Fenech Pace was the Pembroke side’s go-to in the paint.
Meanwhile, Cannon hit her first three of the game as Saliba hit two herself to accompany makes from De Martino and Maria Bonett.
A fourth-quarter opening rush saw Starlites come to within two points as the pressure shifted onto Luxol for the first time in the encounter.
Cannon hit another two three-pointers as the Naxxar club levelled with 5.30 to go in the game. Saliba scored the team’s lead-changing basket 20 seconds later.
Josephine Diaby, who finished with nine points, hit one of two from the line to bring their newly conceded deficit to a point but Cannon replied with another three from the corner.
This became the deciding factor as Starlites led by ten points with seconds remaining and the Super Cup in their clutches.
CAFFE MOAK LUXOL: C. Sollami 1, L. Fenech Pace, T. Bennett 25, H. Galea, K. Portelli, S. Fenech Pace 15, J. Diaby 9, V. Baldacchino, S. Sciberras 6, S. Farrugia, M. Marmara, A. Fenech Pace 10.
STARLITES JSD: M. Zammit Cordina 8, M. Riolo 5, A. Saliba 10, S. Tabone, M. Bonett 6, S. DeMartino 23, P. Cannon 24, P. Riolo, M. Fenech, C. Cilia, S. Davies, C. Curmi.
Officials: G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi, J. Londono.
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