Libertas extend unbeaten run to five
Hibernians powered past Luxol on Friday to give coach Mario Tabone’s clan a well-needed boost in their quest towards a return to the BOV Division One playoffs.
In a public holiday full of local basketball, the Paolites put up a dominant performance to get themselves off the bottom of the standings before an injury-depleted Valletta Fighters fell into the final spot after a blowout loss to Depiro.
Meanwhile, Mellieha Libertas remained the only unbeaten side in the division so far this season after beating Gzira Athleta with a convincing team display.
(24-11, 20-19, 20-13, 25-24)
Speaking to the Times of Malta after the game, centre Ivan Demcesen, who has been in top form since the start of the season said such a win contributes to their goal of making the playoffs.
“It was a great game for us,” he said, “Maybe we got an easier win than we expected. But still, it was a very tough game for us.
“It’s a crucial win for us today because we are preparing for what we want – to make the playoffs. So now we are 2 -2, and we hope now that even on Sunday we’ll get another win against Depiro.
The 7’1 centre who is now considered a local foreigner has been able to contribute much more to Hibs since the rule change and now hopes it continues to bring about improvement.
“(The local foreigner change) is very important for Maltese basketball – it’s much better than we have now, even more time to play as local foreigners. I hope that year by year it will be even better,” he explained.
Facing Depiro on Sunday after just a day’s rest will be a challenge in itself and Demcesen said it makes the game tougher.
“It will be a tough game for both teams, especially as they are very similar,” he said.
“But we will do our best to win the game. For us, it’s important to win so that we can go another step for the playoffs.
As players, playing games so close to each other makes a difference for sure as we have a very short break but we will do our best to recover as soon as possible.”
Hibs’ Mason Hix got things going with an early dunk before Gael Hulsen hit a smooth mid-range jumper to issue his reply.
It was a strong opening for the Paolites, pushing through Hix, Demcesen and Nick Vasovic to go ahead by double digits with 3.33 remaining in the quarter as Stefan Cappello and Hulsen were the only scorers for Luxol in the rubber before Tariq Woody opened his account with two minutes to go.
Up by 13 points at the start of the second quarter, Hibs duo Vasovic and Hix continued to push with constant scores – both in double figures at that point – as Luxol struggled to find their hot hand. They did, somehow, manage to grab six points in quick succession through Woody and Marko Matijevic.
Still ahead by double digits, Hibs began to panic on defence and with Luxol finally gaining traction, foul trouble became an issue for the Paolites as the Violets were in the bonus with two minutes to go in the half. However, it was a 14-point lead for Hibs at the break.
The second half was no less of an uphill struggle for Luxol as the deficit exceeded 20 points in the third quarter, and with clumsy attempts to stop Hibs plays, they put their opponents in the bonus.
Despite the tough margin, Luxol did not back down in the final quarter and started with another Woody score. Isaac Azzopardi hit his fourth point before Woody brought his side under the 20-point margin but Hix and Demcesen continued to pound the Luxol hoop, with Matthew Attard hitting a three-ball to give his side their greatest lead of the day at 24.
Paolites coach Mario Tabone opted to switch his five with the final minutes to go, bringing on young players Stefan Simic, Luke Attard and Ricky Aquilina before taking the win.
HIBERNIANS C. Whipple 13; P. Attard; B. Zammit; L. Attard; N. Vasovic 13; A. Axiaq 5; R. Aquilina; M. Attard 8; M. Hix 28; I. Demcesen 22; S. Simic.
LUXOL S. Pace 3; I. Azzopardi 4; N. Jovanovic; A. Azzopardi; JP Schembri 2; N. Xuereb; G. Hulsen 11; T. Woody 32; M. Matijevic 8; S. Cappello 7.
Referees N. Azzopardi, G. Barbara, J. Londono.
GZIRA ATHLETA 83
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 89
(15-24, 20-17, 22-23, 26-25)
Mellieha’s unbeaten run went on after another dominant showing against Athleta in the day’s early game.
Mellieha’s Tedrick Wolfe hit first with a Vukasin Jandric three-pointer making it a five-point game within the first minute of the game. Malik Riddle responded for Athleta but Wolfe was back with another six points to get his side over the 10-point mark.
Mellieha were looking on top of things in the first quarter and Piotr Stelmach, who started on the bench for Athleta, was becoming his side’s only reprieve as the Maroons trailed by double digits midway through the rubber.
Stelmach and Dajuan Moorer eventually made it a six-point game but as Athleta started clicking on offence, Robert Bonnici hit twice from deep and Kwame Thompson put Mellieha back ahead in a double-digit advantage before a late Moorer bucket to finish the quarter 15-24.
Bonnici was in the mood for threes on the day, hitting his third straight effort from deep for Mellieha in between Matthew Gouder and Moorer scores. Riddle added to a powerful Gzira start to the second quarter to make it a four-point game before another Wolfe three-ball hit pause on his opponents’ momentum. This balance continued throughout a physical set of minutes that saw the Northerners end the first half on top by six points.
Mellieha’s Thompson opened the second half with a pinpoint three-pointer to reignite the game’s excitement, Moorer hitting his Athleta’s first basket after the change of ends in the next play.
The physical play of the first half carried over into the third quarter but while it was mostly clean play in the earlier stages of the game, Mellieha were in the bonus five minutes into the rubber. Nonetheless, the game remained balanced until Jandric hit another three to reopen a double-digit lead for the league leaders.
Riddle hit four consecutive times from deep after a Moorer putback but a Wolfe dunk and and-one play, together with two Thompson scores through contact assured Mellieha would be up by seven before the final quarter.
Moorer slammed home the first points of the fourth quarter but Gouder was out with his fifth foul as Athleta were served their second technical foul of the game to put Mellieha 13 points ahead after four minutes of play. Bonnici then hit yet another three-ball to make the task even tougher and tensions greater. The game was all but over when Mellieha were in the bonus two minutes later, and they administered their lead until the final buzzer.
GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 25; F. Mifsud Bonnici 5; N. Bugahiar; L. Stefanovic 3; D. Moorer 18; M. Gouder 12; R. Abela; P. Stelmach 11; T. Chatzimoysis; J. Cefai 9.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 27; D. Bugeja 12; R. Bonnici 12; V. Jandric 12; I. Bonett 4; R. Carabott; K. Thompson 22; C. Mercurio.
Referees B. Vassallo, J. Londono, G. Barbara.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS 84
SIGMA DEPIRO 119
(10-36, 19-24, 26-31, 29-28)
Depiro recovered from their previous defeat to Athleta last week with a blowout victory over Valletta Fighters.
Miguel Brincat opened the game’s scoring with a wide-open three-pointer. Nikola Bozovic then combined with Kameron Rooks for 14 points in between another Brincat score.
At the other end of the court, Keith Charleston could have ended his game early and added to coach Harry Savaya’s injury woes after an awkward fall during one of his plays. However, the free-scoring Valletta forward started his tally with three points as Desean Mattox put up five in an opening where the Citizens looked second best to their Mtarfa counterparts.
Bozovic and Rooks were in double digits after eight minutes, going as far as to each put up more than Valletta by the end of the first quarter with Depiro up by 26 at the first buzzer.
The second quarter was an improved run for the Citizens but Depiro showed no signs of stopping, increasing their lead to 32 before the rubber’s first timeout.
After the change of ends, Valletta tried to stage a reaction but not much could go right for them, and Depiro, on the other hand, continued to grow and by the final quarter, the gap between the two sides became 40 as coach Ruben Baldacchino affected wider rotation among his players.
The game became a no-contest in the final minutes as young player Luca Trapani scored his first points of the season from two three-pointers to give his team a win where all but two players scored for the Mtarfa side.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 37; S. Saakian; D. Mattox 25; A. Attard 3; M. Farrugia 2; U. Satyanarayan 10; N. Cassar 7.
SIGMA DEPIRO L. Trapani 7; N. Bozovic 35; A. Aquilina; N. Grech 6; K. Rooks 35; M. Brincat 9; M. Mallia 15; C. Cornelius 3; N. Bukva 9; M. Debattista.
Referees B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, Z, Dobrosaviljevic.
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