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Savaya expecting further improvement as Valletta Fighters win first-ever game

Valletta Fighters' Desean Mattox tries to drive past BUPA Luxol's Nathan Xuereb. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Mellieha triumph in Depiro clash

Valletta Fighters registered their first-ever victory in Maltese basketball when they beat BUPA Luxol and secured their semifinal spot in the John Tabone Shield on Sunday.

The Citizens made up for their first game defeat with a dominant performance despite the smaller roster and it was a deserved win as Luxol fell to defeat in their first outing of the season.

Meanwhile, Mellieha Libertas showed their prowess when they overcame SiGMA Depiro in a clash between two sides aiming to challenge title holders Starlites in this season’s competitions.

In the day’s final game, Hibernians made amends for their previous defeat to Mellieha with a strong win against Athleta.



(26-24, 30-21, 13-15, 22-23)

Valletta struggled on their debut against Starlites in the first game but recovered for what technical director Harry Savaya referred to as a ‘great win’.

“I’m a winning coach so this is normal for me but I’m happy for the people of Valletta and I’m happy that we’ve won and we’re heading to the semifinals of the cup,” Savaya told the Times of Malta.

“It’s a great win but it’s one of many to come and after this, we need to enjoy it but then forget about it and go back to work to be ready for the semifinal and our next opponent.”

Asked about the difference in performance between their first and second outings, Savaya admitted it was a case of step-by-step improvement.

“Maybe it was our fault as management because we came here on the 29th of last month so we’ve only had eight practices,” he said.

“So it’s normal and people here need teams to practice with. We had only the two Americans with us for the first practice and three locals were not even available but they understood how much difference we could do together with practice and this was the result.

“Of course, Starlites is a better team but it would have been a better result for us had we been more prepared.

“It’s step by step and we will continue to improve. Definitely this team, especially with the management we have, I’m sure we will go far in the league. In the cup I don’t know – it will be very tough and we respect everyone and hopefully, it all goes well.”

Luxol, playing under coach Reuben Dalli in the absence of Duncan Fenech, hit first through a JP Schembri three-ball. Desean Mattox, who finished the game with an astounding 42 points, wasted no time in responding with one of his own. Tariq Woody, who finished with 32 points and an incredible 27 rebounds double-double opened his account at Luxol with a close-range effort before Keith Charleston hit his first of four threes – part of a double-double performance with 22 points and 15 rebounds – to give Valletta the lead.

The Valletta forward hit another long-range effort and Mattox drove to the hoop to open a five-point lead but Luxol crawled back to level proceedings but missed the chance to change the lead when Marko Matijevic missed both shots from the line midway through the quarter. Instead, Rytis Rutvakas shot another three-ball to reopen the gap.

A Mattox three brought Valletta past the 20-point mark late in the quarter but Luxol kept the margin to just a point with Nathan Xuereb’s first Violet score.

It looked like Valletta’s growing pains from the opening fixture had subsided as their players began to click even more in the second quarter. Mattox made it a nine-point game two minutes into the rubber before another Schembri three-pointer kept up Luxol’s hopes.

Foul trouble was the topic of the quarter as Valletta were in the bonus with 4.49 remaining in the half. However, a slick Sebastian Pace layup had both sides at four points apart before Gael Hulsen brought Luxol to within two points.

Charleston and Woody traded threes with two minutes to go but Mattox was once again on hand to keep Valletta’s lead intact, even going as high as 11 points ahead by the halftime buzzer.

The change of ends kept both sides in full throttle but once again it was the Citizens who looked the most dangerous as the Mattox-Charleston tandem continued to dominate proceedings.

Xuereb brought the margin to single digits early in the final quarter but Christian Briffa and Mattox responded before a time-out was called with nerves at a high.

Woody remained Luxol’s most consistent scorer on the day but with close-range makes, Mattox’ scores kept them on their way to victory despite Charleston getting fouled out with 3.45 remaining in the game and Luxol once more in the bonus.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 22, R. Rutkauskas 11, C. Briffa 4, R. Curmi 4, D. Mattox 42, J. Lisondra 6, U. Satyanorayon 2, D. Militello.

BUPA LUXOL J. Cefai, S. Pace 5, N. Jovanovic, A. Azzopardi, JP Schembri 9, N. Xuereb 8, G. Hulsen 11, T. Woody 32, M. Matijevic 6, S. Cappello 12.

Referees F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi, F. Fabok.



(19-27, 32-14, 15-22, 26-22)

Depiro captain Andrew Aquilina marked his return from injury with a quickfire three-pointer in the first possession.

The Mtarfa side opened a double-digit lead and were in the bonus with 4.30 to go in the first quarter. But Vukasin Jandric downed a three-ball and Thomspon drove up for another two points to avoid a longer Depiro run.

Kwame Thompson and Nikola Bozovic started off the second quarter with long-distance scores on either side of the court before Joshua Tomasi slammed in the day’s first dunk.

Isaac Bonett brought the deficit to seven points before Jandric hit a corner three-pointer as the Northerners started to gain more traction. In fact, Tedrick Wolfe tied the game at 41-41 with an and-one play with 2.32 to go in the first half, the American on form to give his side a 10-point lead by the end of the half in a fast turnaround.

Miguel Brincat hit from deep for Depiro in between Thompson and Jandric triples as Mellieha were 13 points ahead two minutes into the third quarter. Depiro cut the deficit to as much as one but it was Mellieha up by three by the end of the third quarter.

The final rubber was undeniably as intense as ever with both sides laying siege on each other with the game tied after two minutes of play. Thompson and David Bugeja took charge of Mellieha’s scoring before Corrado Mercurio reopened a five-point gap. Wolfe made it nine with an acrobatic dunk and another two points off an interception.

Jandric fouled out with 2.28 to go but Eduardo Valdespina replaced him and hit from deep immediately. Cameron Cornelius did just the same to make it a four-point game but with Bozovic fouled out and both sides in the bonus, Wolfe called game with a set of made freethrows.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 29, D. Bugeja 4, R. Bonnici 2, V. Jandric 17, I. Bonett 8, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 19, E. Valdespina 3, C. Mercurio 10.

SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 6, K. Tomasi 20, A. Aquilina 12, K. Caruana, K. Rooks 27, M. Brincat 8, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 12, N. Bukva, M. Debattista.

Referees B. Vassallo, J. Londono, A. Bayraktar.

Hibernians come back to crush Athleta



(17-14, 19-20, 17-25, 9-34)

Matthew Gouder scored the game’s first basket with Mason Hix hitting first for Hibs. Gouder had all of Athleta’s points with six before Malik Riddle rose to make it eight. Calvin Whipple and Hix gave Hibs their first lead but with seconds to go in the first quarter, but Riddle put Athleta back up by three with two layups in between a Dajuan Moorer freethrow.

In the second quarter, the contest turned defensive as both sides managed to keep their opponent away from the hoop. With two minutes to go till halftime, both teams were level at 30-30 with two acrobatic dunks from Riddle the offensive highlight of the rubber, one of which being the difference maker as Athleta led by two by the change of ends.

After the break, Hibs found an easy way back as they took the lead and opened a five-point gap halfway through the third quarter as Athleta began to struggle on defence. A Hix three-ball gave the Paolites a six-point lead by the buzzer as momentum shifted towards them ahead of the final 10 minutes of play.

The teams were 10 points apart at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Hibs looking to have completed the turnaround after a powerful start to the game by Athleta. The latter looked down and out when Whipple and Hix combined to hit three triples with Hibs up by 22. The American duo as well as Ivan Demcesen kept piling up the points as Hibernians progressed.

GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 19, F. Mifsud Bonnici, N. Buhagiar 3, L. Stefanovic 12, D. Moorer 10, M. Gouder 16, R. Abela, I. Medved, T. Chatzimoysis 2.

HIBERNIANS N. Cassar 1, C. Whipple 21, P. Attard, B. Zammit 2, L. Farrugia, N. Vasovic 11, A. Axiaq, R. Attard, M. Attard 2, M. Hix 22, I. Demcesen 34.

Referees B. Vassallo, A. Bayraktar, F. Ciurariu.

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