Mellieha Libertas get revenge on Starlites
Gzira Athleta got the first win of the new league campaign on Sunday as they started on the right foot with an important win against Hibernians at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion.
Meanwhile, Luxol BC took the spoils against Valletta Fighters as Mellieha Libertas got their revenge over Starlites JSD in an electric contest to end the weekend.
GZIRA ATHLETA 77
(25-18, 26-19, 15-13, 11-16)
Athleta had been looking for their second win of the new season after their only victory – a 100+ points performance against Mellieha Libertas which led only to temporary celebrations due to them having been eliminated in the John Tabone Shield. However, on Day One of the new league campaign, they took the spoils against Hibs immediately.
In a game based on defence, it was Athleta who were the steadier side, and speaking to the Times of Malta, coach Christos Kousidis said that as long as they manage to keep opposing teams below the 75-point mark, they can beat anyone.
“This is our game,” Kousidis said, “We want to win any game so it’s going to be about defence as that is where we get our energy.
“If we keep the other teams lower than 75 points, we are going to win each game. In the last game with Mellieha, we scored 100 points but it’s not possible to do that every time. So, we need to keep consistency on defence, and discipline on offence.
“In my opinion, in the league, it’s very competitive, so anyone can beat anyone. We are not putting our goal too high, but we want to reach the playoffs. We’re going step by step and hopefully, we’ll succeed.
“We’ve had some injuries before. We started the season with seven players, and we had sicknesses. So, we used the first three games as friendlies in order to build the team. We still have a lot of work to do but we are better.”
Hibernians’ Nick Vasovic hit first to open proceedings with a mid-range shot. Matthew Gouder replied with one of his own to equalise before Malik Riddle headed to the hoop to give Athleta the lead. From then on, Athleta’s defence kicked in as they kept Hibs’ shots away and in turn, opened a gap in the lead.
Hibs pushed to close the margin and had the final bucket with a Moorer goaltend from a Whipple layup but Athleta were up by seven at the first buzzer.
Mason Hix hit first from deep at the start of the second quarter but Riddle, the only player in double digits so far in the game, replied with a three-ball of his own before making the most of a halfcourt steal to speed away for a fastbreak score.
Athleta looked the more composed side on the court and with solid defence, pushed the gap to double digits after a Moorer score. Piotr Stelmach continued to stretch Athleta’s lead with an and-one play, but Luke Farrugia finally hit back for Hibs.
In the final minutes of the first half, the Paolites began to drive harder into the lane and managed to get into the bonus with 1.20 to go but Athleta were 14 points ahead by the break.
Hix opened the second half with a three-pointer but Athleta remained the stronger side, eventually widening the gap midway through the third quarter and resting ahead of the final rubber up by 16 points.
Just like all the previous quarters, Hibs hit first in the fourth quarter through a Whipple three-ball but it was Athleta who scored next as Riddle hit the 30-point mark with a minute and a half gone.
The Gzira side were 14 points ahead but faced a late setback after an unsportsmanlike foul from Francesco Mifsud Bonnici on Whipple saw him get ejected with 3.39 to go in the game. While the latter scored from the technical freethrow, he asked to be replaced soon after to see to his apparent back pain and his game was over as well.
By then, there was not much Hibs could do to salvage the game but Hix and Matthew Attard both hit from deep to bring it down to 11 points before the final buzzer.
GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 33, F. Mifsud Bonnici 2, L. Stefanovic 4, D. Moorer 20, M. Gouder 8, P. Stelmach 10.
HIBERNIANS C. Whipple 20, P. Attard, L. Farrugia 2, N. Vasovic 2, A. Axiaq 2, M. Attard 3, M. Hix 20, I. Demcesen 17.
Referees G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Rincon.
Xuereb shines on Luxol league debut
VALLETTA FIGHTERS 66
(16-20, 12-13, 18-23, 20-21)
Luxol made the most out of a seemingly depleted Valletta roster that was missing the likes of Peter Shoults and Jhun Jhun Lisondra to win the first outing of their league campaign in an albeit close contest.
Nathan Xuereb, who had an impressive 27-point game, opened the game’s scoring with a layup but Keith Charleston, who finished as his side’s top-scorer and rebounder with a double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds, equalised seconds later. It began to look like a game of replies when Desean Mattox hit from deep and JP Schembri did just the same.
Luxol took control however, when Stefan Cappello and Nikola Jovanovic combined for eight points to open a gap for the Violets, one which the Citizens reduced to four by the end of the first quarter.
Stopping plays became the order of the second quarter as both teams struggled to score but Jovanovic hit from three after replacing Gael Hulsen when the Belgian conceded his third foul.
Xuereb hit from three for Luxol but Valletta brought the deficit to six points with scores from Neil Cassar and Mattox.
After the halftime break, Valletta looked an improved side and brought the deficit to three points but a Xuereb fastbreak extended the buffer as the Citizens were in the bonus with five minutes to go. To make matters worse, Hulsen rose to the hoop, getting fouled in the process and handing his side the bonus as well.
Valletta had a tough final quarter ahead of them as Luxol were up by 10 at the restart. A Xuereb three-ball caused even more trouble. A Cassar three-pointer and layup gave his side hope with 4.26 remaining. But with both sides again in the bonus, play revolved around the charity line as Luxol held on to take the win.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 23, C. Briffa, S. Saakian 2, R. Curmi, D. Mattox 13, A. Attard 2, M. Farrugia 2, U. Satyanarayan 3, N. Cassar 21.
LUXOL S. Pace, I. Azzopardi 2, N. Jovanovic 9, A. Azzopardi, JP Schembri 5, N. Xuereb 27, G. Hulsen 7, S. Opojevlic 2, T. Woody 15, M. Matijevic 4, S. Cappello 6.
Referees B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, F. Fabok.
STARLITES JSD 98
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 108
(27-17, 20-31, 18-29, 33-31)
In the final game of the day, Starlites succumbed to their first defeat of the new season after a strong Mellieha performance and their first win since the Shield final loss to the title holders.
Mellieha got off to the best start with David Bugeja intercepting Davonte Craven’s tip-off and heading to the hoop to get his side’s first points. Christian Hinckson brought Starlites level with a pair of freethrows but Kwame Thompson shot from three-point range before making an and-one play for Mellieha to open a four-point lead with two minutes gone in the game.
Craven eventually stopped Libertas’ run with an acrobatic escape of his marker to find space for an easy layup. Hinckson scored another himself to tie things up.
Starlites took a momentary one-point lead through Hinckson but Tedrick Wolfe changed the lead again on the next possession. From then on, the game became a tit-for-tat affair with both sides responding to each other and the lead changing constantly.
Starlites were in the bonus with 2.24 to go and a pair of Ian Felice Pace freethrows together with a Craven dunk opened Starlites’ first winning margin of the game. Hinckson added to this run to make it a five-point game. The American forward was in top form, driving for two and hitting from three to give his side a 10-point lead after the first quarter.
Matt Attard opened the second quarter with a three-ball before Mellieha’s Corrado Mercurio replied with one of his own.
Scores from Thompson and Vukasin Jandric brought the game to five points but Starlites’ Attard was in the mood for threes as his shots kept the Naxxar side close to the 10-point gap.
Jandric and Bugeja’s three-balls recharged Mellieha as the Northerners were also in the bonus. Wolfe made it a two-point game, forcing a Starlites timeout. With the final seconds remaining in the first half, Isaac Bonett intercepted a Starlites pass, leading the ball to Thompson, whose dunk sent Mellieha ahead at halftime.
The second half started with a Jandric three-ball and Bugeja made it a seven-point lead for Mellieha with 6.48 to go. Jandric gave his side the next five points for a double-digit lead with a three-pointer and a layup adjudged for goaltending.
Momentum was Mellieha’s side and to add to it was Starlites’ foul trouble and an injury to Kurt Xuereb forcing him to be replaced. Jandric, who finished with five three-pointers, was in hot shooting form to send Mellieha into the fourth quarter ahead by 12.
The final rubber showed Mellieha’s determination to end their winning-less run against Starlites but the latter were not about to give up so easily and scored four straight points halfway through the quarter.
Wolfe became Mellieha’s main driver as both sides entered the bonus and numerous and-one plays secured the win.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 16, C. Hinckson 26, M. Attard 15, I. Felice Pace 8, M. Fabri, K. Fabri, D. Craven 30, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 3.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 31, D. Bugeja 16, R. Bonnici 4, V. Jandric 26, I. Bonett 2, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 21, E. Valdespina 3, C. Mercurio 5, N. Pace.
Referees A. Bayraktar, F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi.
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