Defeat for Luxol on Xuereb’s Athleta return
Mellieha Libertas’ Tedrick Wolfe and Vukasin Jandric both hit 30 points as the Northerners powered past Valletta Fighters on Sunday. While the Citizens blasted through for a fast opening, Mellieha were the eventual marathon winners as they took over and pushed the tempo of the game for the win.
Meanwhile, Gzira Athleta triumphed over Luxol with a Malik Riddle 42-point game before Starlites JSD took a late win in a hotly contested battle against SiGMA Depiro in the final game of the day.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 120
VALLETTA FIGHTERS 92
(24-28, 31-17, 32-20, 33-27)
Valletta had a particularly strong start to the game but speaking to the Times of Malta, Mellieha’s Jandric said it was a case of a slow start from him and the team.
“I expected the game to go this way. In the beginning, we started a bit slow, then from the end of the second quarter, we started playing our game where we ran fastbreaks and we shot well enough that nobody could stop us,” Jandric said.
This new season, albeit still in its early stages, has shown a flowing Mellieha team and the Serbian forward believes the roster simply enjoys playing with one another.
“We have a lot of guys from last season here this season and the Americans have adapted very well, I think, from the start as we played more,” he said,” and we are, at the moment, really enjoying playing together.”
Jandric is one of several players within the league benefitting from the new local-foreigner rule set by the Malta Basketball Association which now allows players who have been residing in Malta for the past three years to play as locals.
Asked about how this helps him and the team, Jandric said it is giving the league more competition.
“I think for me it helped, of course,” Jandric joked when referencing the fact that he is now able to play longer minutes on court leading towards more games like the one against Valletta on Sunday.
“It’s good for our team but even for Maltese basketball. I think it will help in the long term because Maltese young players have to start pushing themselves to play against the locals that live here, and Americans that are coming here.
“I’m seeing Valletta – all the teams are bringing foreigners as well. So, you have to compete against the players that play really good basketball. Overall, I think this season will be very good. All the teams are very similar in quality and everybody can beat everybody. So, I’m sure we will enjoy it.”
The game took just six seconds to see its first basket as Wolfe scored a layup from the first possession. Keith Charleston gave Valletta the lead with an and-one play before Wolfe was again the one to put Mellieha back up with another score.
Both sides traded baskets but Wolfe and Kwame Thompson kept their team ahead despite a pair of Matthew Farrugia made shots. Nevertheless, another Charleston and-one changed the lead yet again.
Valletta were in the bonus with 6.40 to go in the quarter and Mattox scored the game’s first three-pointer to add to his side’s lead.
David Bugeja tied things up with 3.18 to go as after threes from Neil Cassar and Charleston, Valletta began to struggle on offence, causing Mellieha to catch up.
Mattox finally broke his team’s duck with a three-ball before a Cassar basket opened a five-point game with seconds to go. Libertas’ Thompson hit from deep but Valletta led by four at the first buzzer.
The second quarter was full-on defence from both sides for the opening minute and a half before Mattox scored the first layup of the rubber. Wolfe replied with two points of his own straight after and the game was back on.
Mellieha were powering through the lanes with their attacks and they made it a one-point game midway through the quarter with Wolfe getting the two-pointer yet again. Corrado Mercurio then hit from three-point range to put them in the lead for the first time since the opening rubber.
Six seconds away from halftime, Mellieha, now in the bonus, were 10 points ahead at 55-45 with the widest margin of the game from either side, and they kept up this lead until the break.
Bugeja opened the second half scoring with a quick layup in between two Valletta shot clock violations. Wolfe then shot from close range to make it a 14-point game.
Andy Attard stopped Mellieha’s run with a fastbreak score and Charleston pushed to close the gap but it was the Northerners who held command of proceedings and an Isaac Bonett three-ball pushed them past the 70-point mark, before Jandric hit another with 4.32 to go in the third quarter.
Jandric was in terrific form on the day, leading the game in points, and three-pointers from him and Eduardo Valdespina sent Mellieha towards the final quarter up by 22 points.
Valdespina got his second three-pointer of the day as Mellieha continued to power through in the fourth quarter. Things got worse for the Citizens as with eight minutes to go, Mellieha were already in the bonus. Libertas switched to their bench players who were no less of a threat and when Nelly Lee Pace hit three three-pointers in succession, the side were well poised to take the win, 28 points ahead of Valletta.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 30, D. Bugeja 7, R. Bonnici 5, V. Jandric 30, I. Bonett 3, R. Carabott 1, K. Thompson 24, E. Valdespina 6, C. Mercurio 5, N. Pace 9.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 32, C. Briffa, S. Saakian 2, D. Mattox 27, A. Attard 2, M. Farrugia 10, J. Lisondra 5, U. Satyanarayan 6, N. Cassar 8
Referees N. Rincon, N. Azzopardi, F. Ciurariu.
GZIRA ATHLETA 92
(19-22, 29-20, 14-24, 17-26)
Luxol failed to make the most of Athleta guard Francesco Mifsud Bonnici’s absence as the Maroons got their second league win on the trot in the day’s second game.
Matthew Gouder got the game underway with a three-pointer within the first minute. Malik Riddle hit back with a close-range shot but JP Schembri replied with a three-ball before Piotr Stelmach hit back with one of his own to give Athleta a five-point lead.
After the game’s first timeout, Nathan Xuereb scored the first points against his old team with a long-ranger before Tariq Woody hit one too to affect the first lead change of the game. The centre scored again after a long pass from Gael Hulsen to open a four-point lead for Luxol.
Minutes later, Riddle and Dujan Moorer both scored to give Athleta the lead again with 1.54 remaining in the quarter.
Woody opened the second rubber with another three-pointer as both sides were just a point apart. This margin was only temporarily close as Luxol began to push and eventually made it a 10-point game, with a run only stopped by Riddle who hit from three.
Hulsen was having an excellent defensive performance and at the other end, the Belgian hit twice in a row to move his side up by double digits again.
Further threes from Xuereb and Nikola Jovanovic added to Athleta’s woes but both sides were in the bonus and Riddle hit from the charity line before Moorer and Luca Stefanovic made it a six-point game by halftime.
Athleta were tied with Luxol within three minutes of the second half through Riddle and Stelmach scores before Moorer gave his side the lead.
Midway through the third quarter, both teams were in the bonus, and bar a Hulsen triple and a Riddle drive, the game became a constant trip to the line. Nevertheless, the quarter came to a close with Athleta four points ahead after a Stefanovic three-pointer.
Luxol’s Stefan Cappello opened the fourth quarter scoring with his first points, but Riddle hit three times to extend Athleta’s lead to nine points as the American guard was on a hot streak throughout the entire contest.
Xuereb got his marching orders after his fifth foul with 38 seconds remaining and Riddle hit his 42nd point to confirm the win.
LUXOL I. Azzopardi, N. Jovanovic 6, JP Schembri 5, N. Xuereb 20, G. Hulsen 19, S. Opojevlic, T. Woody 25, M. Matijevic 2, S. Cappello 2.
GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 42, N. Buhagiar, L. Stefanovic 6, D. Moorer 17, M. Gouder 12, R. Abela, P. Stelmach 15, T. Chatzimoysis, J. Cefai.
Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, A. Bayraktar, J. Londono.
SIGMA DEPIRO 82
STARLITES JSD 88
(27-26, 24-19, 11-18, 20-25)
In the final game of the day, Starlites made a comeback to remember to overcome a Kameron Rooks-led Depiro offence.
Depiro’s Rooks hit first with second-chance points after a Cameron Cornelius shot. Starlites’ newest signing Kurt James – who was announced by the title holders as a replacement for Malik Lorquet on Saturday – hit the ground running immediately as he scored the first layup for his team.
Rooks was Depiro’s focal point early on in the game and was already a double-digit scorer midway through the first quarter, but Starlites’ Davonte Craven and Matt Attard both hit from deep to make it a one-point game. Cornelius and Nikola Bozovic gave Depiro some breathing space but Alec Felice Pace hit another three-ball to keep it a close game.
Felice Pace brothers Ian and Alec hit the next pair of threes to tie up the game with seconds remaining in the rubber, but Rooks scored one of two freethrows to head back to the team’s benches ahead 27-26.
The Depiro centre was back at it in the second quarter with the first points of the rubber before Cornelius made it a five-point game. However, Starlites pushed forward and the game was back at par with 7.05 to go with a Hinckson three.
Rooks was past the 20-point mark midway through the quarter as the American remained his side’s go-to player on offence, finding space under the hoop through the size mismatch. This, coupled with miscommunication in the Starlites’ defence, pushed Depiro ahead by six by the end of the half.
Craven opened the second-half scoring with a close-range effort before Alec Felice Pace added another two points. Andrew Aquilina hit back for Depiro but James went two-for-two from the line to tie up the game.
Momentum was fully with Starlites and threes from Miguel Fabri and Hinckson gave them the lead. With 1.40 left, both sides were tied and in the bonus – a balanced and physical encounter as one would have expected from the matchup.
Starlites were back ahead in the fourth quarter but interestingly, Bojan Mrkojevic kept it a four-point game with Depiro’s first made three-pointer in the game. Bozovic then brought it to within one with an and-one play with half of the quarter gone.
A pair of Starlites triples reopened a five-point gap but once more, Depiro came back to make it a two-point deficit through Rooks. Hinckson, however, punished Depiro with a mid-range effort before Alec Felice Pace and James freethrows to call game in the final seconds.
SIGMA DEPIRO B. Mrkojevic 5, N. Bozovic 16, A. Aquilina 5, K. Rooks 30, M. Brincat, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 20, N. Bukva 6.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 22, C. Hinckson 10, M. attard 6, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri 6, d. Craven 11, L. Farrugia 4, K. James 20.
Referees B. Vassallo, J. Londono, A. Bayraktar.
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