Mellieha remain unbeaten after Hibs victory
Gzira Athleta needed overtime to beat SiGMA Depiro at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion on Sunday after dropping a double-digit lead and risking defeat in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Mellieha Libertas stayed perfect with another victory, this time a late comeback against Hibernians. Later, Starlites asserted their dominance over Valletta Fighters.
SIGMA DEPIRO 90
GZIRA ATHLETA 96
(17-23, 19-22, 24-22, 24-17, 6-12)
It could have been a dominant win for Athleta on Sunday but second-half pressure caught up with the Maroons and Depiro came back late to force an extra period of play.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Athleta’s Malik Riddle said it was a case of needing to be better on defence throughout the game.
“We got a little sloppy down the stretch on defence,” Riddle said, “we had a good lead, we lost it, but then we made some tough shots.
“We’ve got to be better on rotation on defence and boxing out – we did, but they had a big chance for (the game), so we’ve got to be able to box out.”
Riddle, who joined the side over the summer has been one of the standout performers in the division this new season. Finishing the game with a double-double of 32 points and 12 rebounds, the US import player has shone for his team at both ends of the court.
“I just try to go out there and be aggressive. My team want me to be aggressive as well. I look for my shots and take good ones. I’m not going to lie, I force a couple (of turnovers), but I have to be like that sometimes,” he explained.
“My team tell me to keep being aggressive. So, that’s what I’ve got to do – to stay aggressive the whole time, and not take my foot off the gas.”
With a new coach and several new players, it would have been expected of Athleta to make a slow start. However, it appears to be that the team has gotten up to speed early on in the season, something coach Christos Kousidis had credited to the John Tabone Shield which had served the team as a way to structure the team and let his players gel together. Asked about the dynamic, Riddle believes they share good chemistry.
“It’s easy with these guys. They’re a great team, great guys that be around.” He said.
“Most times on the new team, it’s hard to gel with people and laugh with them. But in practice, we laugh with each other. So, it’s a good chemistry between all of us, I love that.”
On Sunday, Riddle hit first in the game with a three-pointer but Depiro’s Cameron Cornelius replied almost instantly with one of his own.
Kameron Rooks was next on the scoresheet before Riddle replied.
On defence, Athleta were double and even occasionally triple-teaming Rooks who was Depiro’s go-to player under the hoop, and in turn, interceptions led many fastbreaks which gave Athleta the lead after scores from Riddle, Piotr Stelmach and Dajuan Moorer.
Athleta began to grow stronger in the second quarter, getting into their first double-digit lead with 7.35 to go.
Midway through the rubber, Depiro upped their offensive efforts and got back to within three points. Meanwhile, Athleta’s defence became concentrated in the paint which left players out wide free to shoot, as well as putting Depiro in the bonus. Still, it was a nine-point Athleta lead at halftime.
After the change of ends, Riddle was again first to open the scoring. Then, a perfectly executed team play saw the ball land in Mifsud Bonnici’s hands, the Athleta captain successfully attempting a fake which gave him an open run to the hoop as Kousidis’ clan were back ahead by double-digits.
Mallia and Cornelius hit back for Depiro with five minutes to go in the third quarter but Athleta were looking more organised on both ends of the court as they kept up their precious lead.
Nicholas Grech and Miguel Brincat both hit from three for Depiro in between a Matthew Gouder long-ranger for Athleta to bring the deficit to seven as the final quarter looked like make or break for both sides.
Grech was again on target from three when the fourth quarter began. Fouls on Rooks made it a four-point game before Cornelius hit from deep to counter a Riddle mid-ranger. Stelmach reopened the buffer but Cornelius and Grech both hit again from three-point range to tie the game six minutes from time.
Pressure was on Athleta and it started to look like a Depiro comeback for the second week in a row when Cornelius rose to make a lead-changing layup on his team’s next possession. The lead, however, was back in Athleta’s favour and they were up by four after a three-ball and freethrow by Gouder with 1.48 remaining.
Nikola Bozovic hit his first points of the day with a three but Mifsud Bonnici kept it at three points with less than a minute remaining. But the game was far from done when Cornelius tied again with another three-pointer to force the season’s first overtime.
A Riddle and-one play reopened the gap and Gouder scored one of two freethrows. When it seemed like nothing could separate the sides, Mifsud Bonnici drove up for two and Luca Stefanovic hit his most important shot of the day with a three-pointer as Athleta took the game.
SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 3, N. Grech 8, K. Rooks 29, M. Brincat 4, M. Mallia 12, C. Cornelius 34, N. Bukva, M. Debattista.
GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 32, F. Mifsud Bonnici 11, N. Buhagiar, L. Stefanovic 8, D. Moorer 12, M. Gouder 12, R. Abela, P. Stelmach 18, T. Chatzimoysis, J. Cefai 3.
Referees A. Bayraktar, N. Azzopardi, N. Rincon.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 90
(19-28, 20-15, 26-24, 25-16)
Mellieha Libertas remained unbeaten for a fourth straight game when they came back to beat Hibernians in a hotly contested fixture.
David Bugeja opened the game’s scoring with a driving layup before Robert Bonnici hit from deep. Ivan Demcesen, who finished the afternoon as his side’s top scorer with 38 points, scored his team’s first hoop and the game was underway.
With 2.44 left in the opening quarter, Hibs were in the lead, and the bonus as Demcesen, already in double digits, terrorised the Mellieha defence. Libertas pushed to try and get parity but it was the Paolites who led by nine at the first buzzer.
On the restart, three-pointers from Vukasin Jandric and Tedrick Wolfe brought the game to within two, and two-pointers from Kwame Thompson and Eduardo Valdespina gave Mellieha their first temporary lead before freethows from Demcesen and a three-ball from Paul Attard. This tit-for-tat continued but it was Hibs who led by four points at the break.
It was as close as ever in the second half and the final quarter was to be a story of who could stay accurate the most in the tightest of spaces and it was Mellieha who took the lead. Thompson gave his side their first gap at the top but Demcesen tied the game midway through the rubber.
Fouls became an issue as Wolfe, Thompson, and Mercurio pushed Mellieha back up by seven while Hibs looked down and out. Calvin Whipple hit his third three-ball of the game but it was the Northerners who closed off the encounter with a long-distance shot from Jandric.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 21, D. Bugeja 11, R. Bonnici 6, V. Jandric 14, I. Bonett, K. Thompson 21, E. Valdespina 2, C. Mercurio 15.
HIBERNIANS C. Whipple 9, P. Attard 6, L. Farrugia, N. Vasovic 2, A. Axiaq 12, M. Attard 2, M. Hix 14, I. Demcesen 38.
Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, J. Londono, A. Bayraktar.
STARLITES JSD 108
VALLETTA FIGHTER 76
(22-13, 32-23, 31-9, 23-31)
Starlites thumped Valletta Fighters in an encounter which showed the title-holders’ mettle against a Valletta side that did not have their best day at the office. It was also a bout which saw all but one player put their name on the scoresheet.
The game had a particularly slow start but Alec Felice Pace opened proceedings two minutes into play with two close-range efforts. Keith Charleston had Valletta’s first points but Miguel Fabri drove up to make it a four-point game for Starlites.
Matt Attard opened a double-digit lead for the title-holders with a corner three-pointer as the Citizens began to struggle to make their shots. However, two Desean Mattox scores got them back in the game to end the first quarter down by nine points.
In the second quarter, Starlites’ momentum pushed them into a 16-point lead with 2.32 to go but it was not without Charleston’s pressure, the Valletta forward working hard on both sides of the court. Mattox hit twice from deep but Starlites wouldn’t take their foot off the gas and went for halftime up by 18 after a four-point play by Felice Pace.
A minute and a half into the restart, Matt Attard opened the second-half scoring with a three-pointer, putting Starlites over a 20-point lead. Mattox and Neil Cassar became Valletta’s offensive options but Davonte Craven was accurate to hit three times ahead of scores from Attard and Ian Felice Pace to keep his side well ahead in the final minutes of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a formality between the two sides, particularly when Starlites increased their lead to 40 points at the start of the quarter. The Naxxar side switched to their young bench players, led by import player Kurt James. Mattox went on a 7-0 scoring run before this was stopped by Neil Sultana for his first points of the season. Sean Aquilina and Kai Fabri joined in the Starlites scoring after James gave Starlites their 100th point in a win they confirmed two minutes later at the final buzzer.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 11, C. Hinckson 8, M. Attard 23, S. Aquilina 4, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri 2, K. Fabri 4, D. Craven 23, L. Farrugia 2, N. Sultana 2, K. James 24.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 31, S. Saakian, R. Curmi 2, D. Mattox 27, A. Attard 4, M. Farrugia 4, U. Satyanarayan 5, N. Cassar 3.
Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, I. Simic.
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