Valletta Fighters fall to Starlites in debut
Hibernians looked a revitalised side in their first showing of the new season but they not could get past Mellieha as Libertas beat the Paolites late in the game in Sunday’s John Tabone Shield opener.
Later, Valletta Fighters made their official debut in Maltese basketball with a tough defeat to Starlites JSD as a new-look SiGMA Depiro edged past Gzira Athleta.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 102
(33-27, 24-26, 24-19, 13-30)
It was a case of avenging the Super Cup defeat for Mellieha but it was no easy task as they played second fiddle to Hibernians for most of the game before a comeback gave them safe passage to the next round.
Speaking to the Times of Malta after the game, coach Ian Terribile expressed his relief after his side showed the courage to turn the game around.
“We played against a totally different Hibs side,” he said, “I’m very proud of the way we faced the competition – the players played defence from the heart and I believe that everything came from that.
“The first game was disappointing, especially because it was a final. But we’ve moved on and we keep our focus game by game.”
Asked about what he’s expecting from Mellieha this season, Terribile referenced the gradual growth of the club.
“Mellieha is growing bit by bit. Since last season especially, the difference is showing even in the quality of players we have with us and those who are willing to join us. The mentality remains that of constant forward-pushing and I believe we have a good nucleus to do well.”
Sunday’s early game showed its energy from tip-off when Ivan Demcescen hit first from close range for Hibernians in the opening seconds but Kwame Thompson replied for Mellieha with a steal and a fast break score in a fast start to the game.
It was threes all around as Calvin Whipple hit his first of four makes before Mellieha tied things up with a Vukasin Jandric effort. Hibs’ Nick Vasovic replied with one of his own at the other end. Mason Hix then hit from the top of the key as Whipple hit another with Hibs now up by nine after half of the quarter.
Further three-pointers from Mellieha duo Isaac Bonett and Robert Bonnici brought it to within three.
This tit-for-tat continued throughout the quarter but the lead changed with 2.36 to go when Mellieha’s Corrado Mercurio hit from deep and Thompson finished another fastbreak layup. Hibs however, came back to recover their advantage before the teams left for the break.
Halftime brought well-needed rest as the two sides went straight back into their high-tempo basketball when the game resumed for the third quarter. Vasovic and Whipple both scored from three as Mellieha pushed for points in the paint through Wolfe.
With the teams locked in a six-point game, Hix broke the long-standing margin with a three-pointer to end the quarter at 81-72.
The fourth quarter was as close as ever with Mellieha managing to drop their deficit, even going ahead for a moment, piling pressure on Hibs. With more than half of the final rubber played, the Paolites retook the lead by just a point before Wolfe completed an and-one play to give it back to Mellieha with 3.28 to go in the game.
This momentum was crucial for Mellieha who opened a five-point lead with seconds to go and with Hibs in foul trouble, Jandric missed one and made the other from the line to put his side up by six, now at the 100-point mark, with 23 seconds left.
HIBERNIANS: N. Cassar, C. Whipple 21, P. Attard, L. Farrugia 2, N. Vasovic 8, A. Axiaq, M. Attard 3, M. Hix 29, I. Demcesen 31.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS: T. Wolfe 36, D. Bugeja 10, R. Bonnici 7, V. Jandric 13, I. Bonett 5, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 26, E. Valdespina, C. Mercurio 5.
Referees: F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi, A. Bayraktar.
STARLITES JSD 89
VALLETTA FIGHTERS 52
(16-9, 26-15, 21-15, 26-13)
Later on Sunday, Valletta fell to defeat in their first commitment on the Ta’ Qali court, against Starlites.
The game needed two minutes for the first basket, after a number of missed attempts on both sides of the court, when Alec Felice Pace hit a three-pointer to open the scoring. Desean Mattox got Valletta’s first points with a pair of freethrows before Keith Charleston gave them the lead from close range.
From then on, the first quarter was as low-scoring as ever with the next points coming four minutes later through another Fenech Pace three-ball before Malik Lorquet gave the Naxxar side a four-point lead. Miguel Fabri and Kurt Xuereb both scored in between Rytis Rutkaukas and Christian Briffa efforts but that was it for the opening set of minutes.
Lorquet took over in the second quarter as Starlites took a double-digit lead for the first time in the game despite both sets of players being far from accurate in their shooting.
Starlites opened a 22-point advantage at the start of the second half and managed to maintain it with Valletta struggling to find an open lane in spite of Charleston’s efforts close to the hoop.
Mattox hit from three immediately in the fourth quarter as Valletta tried to come back from 26 points down. However, when Rutkaukas got his marching orders for his fifth foul, and Lorquet rose to make it a 30-point game, the contest was all but over as Starlites answered to every Valletta attack to take the comfortable win.
STARLITES JSD: A. Felice Pace 13, C. Hinckson 15, S. Aquilina, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri 9, D. Craven 22, L. Farrugia 3, K. Xuereb 6, M. Lorquet 15.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS: Keith Charleston 19, R. Rutkauskas 8, C. Briffa 3, R. Curmi, D. Mattox 18, J. Lisondra 4, U. Satayanorayon.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi.
Depiro power past Athleta
SIGMA DEPIRO 70
GZIRA ATHLETA 57
(17-7, 19-15, 17-22, 17-13)
The final game of the day was the first test for big spenders Depiro after numerous moves in the transfer market over the summer and they passed with a win over a new-look Gzira Athleta side.
Depiro’s Miguel Brincat dropped the first points of the game as Gzira’s Malik Riddle hit one back before Kameron Rooks scored twice to put Depiro ahead. Joshua Tomasi then hit the first three-pointer of his Depiro career for a four-point lead.
The Malta international began proving his worth as soon as the first quarter with nine points, strong driving, and a crucial physical presence on defence as Depiro were 10 points ahead by the first buzzer.
Athleta hit first in the second quarter when Dajuan Moorer fired from close range to beat the shot clock. But Nikola Bozovic replied with a swish from three-point range before Rooks made it a double-digit lead again.
Bozovic and Riddle traded threes to start off the second half, the latter hitting twice more to bring the deficit down to six points. However, a number of missed shots allowed Depiro to regain their composure and end the third quarter 11 points ahead of Athleta.
Matthew Gouder was Athleta’s main driver in the final quarter as Gzira were six points down after the first four minutes but when the forward fouled out with a minute and a half remaining, Depiro held firm to take the win.
SIGMA DEPIRO: B. Mrkojevic, N. Bozovic 9, J. Tomasi 16, K. Caruana, K. Rooks 20, M. Brincat 11, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 14, N. Bukva.
GZIRA ATHLETA: M. Riddle 25, F. Mifsud Bonnici 3, L. Stefanovic 4, D. Moorer 4, M. Gouder 19, R. Abela 2, I. Medved, T. Chatzimoysis.
Referees: B. Vassallo, I. Simic, A. Bayraktar.
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