Mellieha extend unbeaten run to six games after Luxol win
Hibernians made the most out of a two-game weekend as they beat SiGMA Depiro at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion on Sunday.
Just two days after their victory against Luxol, coach Mario Tabone’s clan looked well-recovered and they held their end against a Depiro side looking for a second consecutive win themselves.
Meanwhile, Mellieha Libertas stayed perfect with their sixth win in a row, this time a strong performance against Luxol. Starlites edged past Gzira Athleta in a nail-biting encounter in the day’s later game.
SIGMA DEPIRO 77
(30-22, 15-17, 18-21, 20-17)
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Hibernians coach Mario Tabone said it was a game that gives his players the confidence to close out close games.
“Today was really difficult for us, especially because we had players who were sick – Ivan (Demcesen) played with a fever – so I was a bit fearful of this game,” Tabone said.
“To make matters worse, we had that injury to one of our foreigners, but it was vital for us to win because this was the first time we won a close game.
“This win will definitely give us a boost because we know that if games are close, we can win them anyway. The game we lost against Mellieha, where we were leading, came close and we gave up. Now this win will give us that confidence boost we needed.”
Asked about having won two tough fixtures in the space of two days, Tabone emphasised that it was beneficial for them to get past that hurdle.
“It was crucial for us to keep motivation because Luxol and Depiro are two teams that at the end of the day, are direct competitors for a playoff spot. So, we needed to concentrate and now we can put that behind us.
“Now we have Valletta, whom we’ve never played before, and after that, we can play a bit calmer and consequently better, even against those who, on paper, seem better than us.
Hibs’ Ivan Demcesen hit the game’s first basket with a putback before Mason Hix went from end to end to block a Nikola Bozovic effort and finish his side’s next layup. Cameron Cornelius grabbed Depiro’s first points on their next play and it was game on.
The Mtarfa side changed the game’s first lead with a Miguel Brincat three-pointer before Bozovic made amends to bag his first points of the day from under the hoop.
Calvin Whipple regained Hibernians’ lead midway through the quarter with a score and full points from an and-one play before a Matthew Attard three-ball. Hix and Nick Vasovic then both hit from deep to open an eight-point lead for the Paolites ahead of the first buzzer.
Hix was again in the scoring charts from behind the arc as the second quarter began, to give Hibs a double-digit lead. Rooks brought it back to nine with a pair of free-throws before Bozovic fired in from three-point range, and Andrew Aquilina grabbed his first points of the week with a mid-range jumper.
Fouls became an issue for the Paolites as Depiro were in the bonus midway through the rubber but the Mtarfa side only managed to bring the deficit down to six by the halftime break.
After the change of ends, Hibs guard Attard opened the scoring with another three-pointer before Kameron Rooks and Cornelius responded with two straight close-range scores. Bozovic was on the end of a long pass, rising up to make it a three-point game. With 5.46 to go in the third quarter, Rooks gave Depiro the lead from a successful and-one play as coach Ruben Baldacchino’s clan was back in the bonus.
Hix and Whipple both hit from three to change the lead but despite the Paolites now also being in the bonus, a Whipple injury resulted in them losing one of their most important players.
“We’ll have to observe what Calvin has, then we’ll have a good idea of how much time it’ll cost us,” Hibs coach Tabon said when asked about the injury.
Hix avenged his teammate with another three-ball, as Attard hit two from three freethrows to hand his side a close lead before the final rubber.
Depiro’s Nenad Bukva opened the fourth quarter before Vasovic replied with two mid-range scores to extend Hibs’ lead to five before Aquilina and Cornelius three-balls put the Mtarfa side back up.
In a moment of tension, an argument between Vasovic and Bozovic saw both players face technical fouls and with the Depiro forward already on his fourth foul, this meant an ejection for the Serbian, putting Hibs back in the lead after Hix freethrows.
The final two minutes of the encounter showed the game’s emotion with both sides hitting each other with everything they’ve got. Both sides gave each other the bonus but with Hibs leading by seven with seconds to go, the Paolites took their second win in the week.
HIBERNIANS C. Whipple 11, P. Attard, N. Vasovic 19, A. Axiaq 2, M. Attard 12, M. Hix 21, I. Demcesen 18.
SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 13, A. Aquilina 5, N. Grech, K. Rooks 26, M. Brincat 3, M. Mallia 10, C. Cornelius 15, N. Bukva 5.
Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, J. Londono, N. Rincon.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 108
(21-30, 16-26, 19-25, 40-27)
Coming from a defeat to Hibs on Friday, Luxol were hoping to make amends to regain their momentum in their fight for a playoff spot, but Mellieha had other plans in mind and they made their presence known from the start to go six of six in this season’s league campaign.
Tedrick Wolfe started strong with full points from an and-one play and a signature dunk from a behind-the-back assist from Kwame Thompson to open the game’s scoring. Thompson then turned scorer with two mid-range efforts to force the game’s first timeout.
Tariq Woody logged Luxol’s first points of the day before Nathan Xuereb hit from three but Vukasin Jandric gave Mellieha a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter.
It was as high tempo as can be with Gael Hulsen and JP Schembri hitting threes on one end of the court, while Thompson and David Bugeja sped towards their target at the other end.
Luxol’s Xuereb opened the second quarter with two straight three-balls to bring his side’s deficit to seve. Still, Wolfee and Thompson both sped through contact on separate plays to extend the gap again, Mellieha going as far as to raise it to 23 at one point before halftime.
The third quarter’s opening mirrored the preceding one as Xuereb fired from three to start the scoring, while Thompson and Wolfe responded. The game hovered around the 20-point margin as both sides had a particularly offensive set of minutes, leading up to a 25-point game at the start of the final rubber.
Mellieha’s Bugeja kept up the trend of starting quarters with a three-ball as the Northerners were close to yet another victory. Luxol were not about to die down, however, and three consecutive three-balls from Xuereb and another from Nikola Jovanovic showed their fight. But Mellieha were up past the 100-point mark with 4.58 to go in the game and kept up their momentum albeit with a different five to secure victory with a Nelly Lee Pace threeball.
LUXOL S. Pace, I. Azzopardi 8, N. Jovanovic 10, JP Schembri 9, N. Xuereb 28, G. Hulsen 13, T. Woody 21, M. Matijevic 5, S. Cappello 2.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 40, D. Bugeja 24, R. Bonnici 5, V. Jandric 16, I. Bonett 2, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 18, C. Mercurio, N. Pace 3.
Referees N. Azzopardi, A. Bayraktar, Z. Dobrosaviljevic.
Starlites find victory in final seconds
GZIRA ATHLETA 85
STARLITES JSD 89
(28-22, 15-33, 28-13,14-21)
In the final game of the day, Starlites profited off an injured Piotr-Stelmach-less Athleta side to win and go two for two in this week’s games. However, it was far from simple for coach Paul Ferrante’s team as Athleta fought until the final second.
Athleta’s Malik Riddle hit first with a three-pointer and Juan Cefai hit from deep after Davonte Craven rammed through contact to dunk the ball for Starlites’ first points. Two more threes were in store to raise the game’s tempo with Riddle and Craven firing home at both ends of the court.
A physical encounter, both teams ended up in the bonus and points came left, right, and centre, with Athleta up by six after a masterful first quarter from Riddle.
Similar to the opening rubber, play was quick, and the ball was distributed from one side to the other, but it was Starlites who looked more focused and they went ahead with three scores, two of which came from three-point land. This went on as the Naxxar side extended their advantage to 10 before a late timeout by Athleta coach Christos Kousidis two minutes from the break.
Athleta looked the stronger side on offence as teams restarted play in the second half. However, defence was not at its best for the Maroons, making it more difficult for them to catch up. Nevertheless, they managed to cancel their deficit with four minutes to go and eventually went ahead with threes from Riddle and Cefai before the buzzer.
The two teams traded long-distance scores but when it came to points in the paint, Dajuan Moorer and Riddle caught the Starlites defence out, forcing fouls out of their opponents and getting into the bonus.
With 2.26 to go in the game, Craven hit from deep to give Starlites a two-point lead but Moorer tied with a putback. However, Kurt James hit twice with less than a minute to go to break Athleta’s hearts before Attard free-throws secured a three-point Starlites victory.
GZIRA ATHLETA M. Riddle 40, F. Mifsud Bonnici, N. Buhagiar, L. Stefanovic, D. Moorer 20, M. Gouder 6, J. Cefai 12.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 21, C. hinckson 9, M. Attard 12, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri 5, D. Craven 29, L. Farrugia, K. James 13.
Referees B. Vassallo, A. Bayraktar, F. Ciurariu.
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