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Hibernians aiming to overcome past troubles with revitalised start

Hibernians guard Matthew Attard (right) attempts to steal the ball from Depiro’s Cameron Cornelius. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Athleta shock Mellieha for first victory

Hibernians may not have had the best of seasons in these past years, but the side coached by Mario Tabone is looking as strong as ever in this season’s John Tabone Shield. The Paolites have lost just once so far and beat SiGMA Depiro over the weekend with an impressive performance.

Gżira Athleta celebrated their first victory of the new season as they shocked Mellieha Libertas before Starlites JSD dominated BUPA Luxol.

(27-12, 18-18, 26-17, 18-12)

Depiro have become an intimidating side over the summer and Hibs coach Tabone believes it took a very good performance to beat them and book a place in the semi-finals.

“We played a really good game,” Tabone told the Times of Malta, “the target now is to keep up this level. We played our best game and literally every player who took part played well.”

The local-foreigner rule introduced by the Malta Basketball Association has helped Hibs as star player Ivan Demcesen has now been handed a lot more time on court and together with fellow local-foreigner Nick Vasovic and the side’s two US import players Calvin Whipple and Mason Hix, the team has found a strong basis.

However, one major change within the team is the return of Tabone himself. The long-standing coach faced a season ban during the last campaign due to on-court issues in the previous season and has now returned after coach Silvio Cassar had held the reigns in his absence.

Asked about his target upon return, Tabone was direct in saying: “My goal is to win again”.

“After COVID-19 and what happened two years ago, last season was very difficult. The coach who replaced me introduced a lot of youth into the side which shifted a bit the focus.

“This weekend we face Starlites in the semifinal – one of the best teams and the players they have, have been playing together for a long time.

“Our goal is to challenge for everything possible – the important thing is that we peak by the time we reach the playoffs.”

Depiro’s Joshua Tomasi hit the first basket of the game before Demcesen and Hix put Hibs in the lead.

A Matthew Attard three-pointer, one of five throughout the game, put the Paolites up by seven and Whipple opened the first double-digit margin before Hix made it 15 points at the first buzzer.

Kameron Rooks opened the second quarter scoring with a layup and a pair of freethrows before Cameron Cornelius made it a 10-point game. In spite of this, with Demcesen the focal point of Hibs’ offence, the side could shift play onto different shooters with Attard hitting two threes for a 45-30 first-half finish.

Rooks and Tomasi were hitting on all cylinders for the Mtarfa side in the third quarter but Whipple, Demcesen, and Hix were not to be stopped with the former hitting three consecutive three-pointers in one minute as Hibs were 24 points ahead with 4.54 remaining in the quarter.

The final quarter was even better for Hibs as they pushed harder to increase their lead with the highest being that of 30 by the end of the game.

HIBERNIANS C. Whipple 18, P. Attard 3, B. Zammit, L. Farrugia 2, N. Vasovic 2, A. Axiaq, M. Attard 15, M. Hix 17, I. Demcesen 32.
SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 2, J. Tomasi 14, A. Aquilina, N. Grech, K. Caruana, K. Rooks 26, M. Brincat 2, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 11, N. Bukva 2, M. Debattista 2.
Referees B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, A. Bayraktar.

(36-19, 19-29, 17-25, 25-28)
Mellieha Libertas ended their unbeaten run in the Shield with a four-point defeat to Gżira Athleta, the latter’s first victory of the new season.

Vukasin Jandric opened proceedings with a three-pointer immediately before Matthew Gouder responded with a layup for Athleta. Kwame Thompson and Dujuan Moorer traded buckets but it was Mellieha who held the edge in the first quarter and even opened a 19-point lead by the end of the rubber.

Jandric yet again put the first points on the board in the second quarter with Mellieha maintaining their 20+ point lead for most of the rubber. However, it was then that Athleta’s Riddle-Gouder-Moorer trio came into the fore as together with two Francesco Mifsud Bonnici scores, they brought the deficit down to seven points by halftime.

Athleta kept up this momentum in the second half and turned the tide, and eventually the lead, with a third-quarter push. The fourth was just as impressive from the Maroons as they opened a nine-point lead for the first time since their comeback. The game came to par twice with Mellieha threatening to take this achievement away but Riddle and Gouder assured their side of the win in the final seconds of the game.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 26, D. Bugeja 4, R. Bonnici 4, V. Jandric 29, I. Bonett 3, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 28, E. Valdespina, C. Mercurio 3.
GŻIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 32, F. Mifsud Bonnici 10, N. Buhagiar 13, D. Moorer 25, M. Gouder 19, R. Abela 2, I. Medved.
Referees B. Vassallo, J. Londono, Z. Dobrosaviljevic.

Starlites stay 100% with Luxol victory

(17-19, 20-30, 17-24, 20-13)

In the day’s final game, high-flying Starlites JSD continued right where they left off a week before when they overcame the hurdle set up by BUPA Luxol. Starlites led throughout to book their place in the semifinals for a clash with Hibernians.

Alec Felice Pace and Christian Hinckson opened proceedings, and a five-point lead, before Luxol erased it through Tariq Woody and Gael Hulsen.

Davonte Craven, who finished with a team-high of 28 points, kicked off as Woody – who led the game in scoring with 31 points by the final buzzer – continued to score for the Violets to keep the score in the balance.

The second quarter was just as quick with the majority of both sides’ points coming from inside the paint.
However, it was a Hinckson three-pointer that opened the first double-digit lead for Starlites with 1.59 to go in the first half. 22 seconds from the break, Miguel Fabri gave Starlites a 13-point lead before the two sides retired to the dressing rooms for halftime.

Starlites erupted in the second half with Craven grabbing his 24th point just as his team led by the same number.

Luxol managed to bring that number down to 10 in the fourth quarter but it was too much for them to handle as Starlites took the win.

BUPA LUXOL S. Pace, I. Azzopardi 2, N. Jovanovic 12, JP Schembri 1, N. Xuereb 18, G. Hulsen 4, T. Woody 31, M. Matijevic 4, S. Cappello 2.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 19, C. Hinckson 14, M. Attard 8, I. Felice Pace 7, M. Fabri 5, D. Craven 28, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb, M. Lorquet 3.
Referees N. Azzopardi, J. Londono, A. Bayraktar.

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