MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 77
STARLITES JSD 85
(28-19, 10-22, 21-22, 18-22)
Starlites JSD won their fifth Shield, and the first one under its new name – the John Tabone Shield – on Sunday in a tense finale against Mellieha Libertas at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion.
This was the two sides’ second final of the new season after they had met in the Super Cup back in October and just like then, it was Starlites who came out on top this time despite what coach Paul Ferrante believes was not his side’s best showing.
It also marked the return of the competition’s original format after having been switched to a version of the Elam Ending last season, one that had sparked criticism from the local clubs.
Speaking to the Times of Malta after the win, Ferrante made reference to the late John Tabone.
“First of all, I’d like to pay tribute to John Tabone’s memory, for whom the trophy is named, because I have a lot of personal memories with him, so to see his relatives here was moving,” he said.
Speaking about the game, the Starlites coach lauded Mellieha’s challenge despite his players not being at their best.
“Mellieha are looking to be very valid challengers and they prepared well today. More than us being better, I think it was more a case of them having difficulties which is part of the game. We didn’t have our best game – we could have been much better.
“Having said that, we’ve won our second trophy and now we begin to work on the league.”
Starlites had already been forced to replace one player who had joined over the summer when Canadian forward Stephane Ingo returned to the US. On Sunday, Ferrante expressed his disappointment, saying that his replacement Malik Lorquet, who finished the day with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds on the day, was also on his way out of the club.
Lorquet had become an important role player for the side, averaging 10 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.
Meanwhile, one of the summer stories around the club was the re-signing of Maltese-Australian guard Matt Attard.
Since joining last season, Attard has been on the winning side in every local competition bar one – the Louis Borg Cup – which went to Sunday’s challengers Mellieha.
Asked for his thoughts about the team, Attard believes they’ve managed to keep up their momentum from last season.
“So far, we’ve grown from last year – we have the same core group with the Maltese guys and me coming back,” Attard said.
“Our new foreigners obviously add a lot to our team so we’ve managed to play with high energy and high intensity and keep going from what we did last year, coming into these first two finals with energy and depth which helps us play a long game – 40 minutes – and no one can really battle us for 40 minutes.”
A vital part of his play last season was his three-point shooting ability and even though Attard believes he has had a shaky start to this new season, averaging 2.7 threes a game in the Shield, the guard said he is ‘super lucky’ with his teammates who manage to find him out wide.
“Personally, I had a bit of a slow start in the first few games so I’m just working every day, trying to find my rhythm,” he said.
“I’m super lucky with the guys – they know how I play now because this is my second year here, so they manage to keep finding me and give me good looks. If I keep working, it’s going to come and I’m going to keep finding my threes.”
Mellieha’s Tedrick Wolfe, who led the team’s scoring with 22 points on 60% accuracy, opened the game’s scoring as Vukasin Jandric hit twice in a row with a bucket from Starlites’ top-scorer of the day Ian Felice Pace in between.
The Northerners were on fire midway through the opening quarter as they opened a double-digit lead with an alley-oop finish from Wolfe. David Bugeja then hit four straight points to put them up by 14.
With 2.32 to go in the first rubber, Wolfe put his side past the 20-point mark with another acrobatic dunk before Starlites’ Lorquet drove into the paint to make it a 10-point deficit on the next play.
It was a physical and high tempo as ever and with a minute remaining in the quarter, both teams were in the bonus with Mellieha keeping up their lead until the first buzzer.
The Naxxar side hit first in the second quarter with Alec Felice Pace diving to the floor to hold onto the ball before dishing it off to his brother Ian to make the layup. Attard hit from three before Christian Hinckson rose to make it a one-point game in a powerful 7-0 run for Starlites.
Mellieha stopped the run with a Kwame Thompson three-pointer but it was Starlites’ quarter as they kept pushing and eventually went ahead with an Alec Felice Pace freethrow with 1.43 remaining in the half. Kurt Xuereb became their constant receiver as the Starlites players went long after every rebound, and the Malta international did not disappoint as he was either the scorer or assisted teammates’ scores before the halftime buzzer.
Felice Pace domination
After the break, it was Mellieha who struck first but Ian Felice Pace scored from three-point range to hit Mellieha with a double whammy after Wolfe was subbed out as a precaution after his fourth foul.
The Northerners did, however, dig their way back and they inflicted another lead change when new loan signing from SiGMA Depiro Nelly Lee Pace laid the ball to Thompson who beat his defender with a behind-the-back crossover before finishing the layup.
With half of the quarter left, Starlites were back in front with Hinckson and Davonte Craven now leading the charge, combining with Ian Felice Pace who was now in full throttle.
At the other end of the court, however, the Naxxar side were in foul trouble with 2.40 remaining and Mellieha were just two points behind. Nevertheless, Attard was on key to set up a tough finale for Libertas with another three-ball.
Wolfe was reintroduced for the final rubber and he wasted no time in making amends for his absence with another entertaining dunk and a quick layup with Mellieha now back in the lead.
Quick runs from Lorquet brought life to Starlites as they caught up and opened a six-point lead with four minutes to go.
Further scores from Xuereb pushed it to an eight-point lead and with a minute to go, Alec Felice Pace made it double digits and his side maintained their lead to lift the trophy at the final buzzer and kept their unbeaten record intact for yet another game.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 22, D. Bugeja 8, R. Bonnici 11, V. Jandric 10, I. Bonett 2, K. Thompson 17, E. Valdespina 1, Corrado Mercurio 6, N. Pace.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 18, C. Hinckson 10, M. Attard 11, I. Felice Pace 19, M. Fabri, D. Craven 4, K. Xuereb 9, M. Lorquet 14.
Referees B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, J. Londono.
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