Starlites blow out Luxol in one-sided game
The BOV Men’s Division One returned last weekend and while the calendar year may be different, the league leader remains the same as Mellieha took the spoils in a close encounter with SiGMA Depiro on Sunday to stay the only unbeaten team in the division.
Title-holders Starlites continued to state their intentions of challenging for a three-straight title with a 48-point victory over Luxol, while Hibernians’ new signing Nick Brennen made the most out of his debut to help the Paolites beat Valletta Fighters as their positive season continues.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 84
SIGMA DEPIRO 82
(23-23, 20-18, 26-23, 15-18)
Speaking to the Times of Malta after a 25-point performance, Mellieha’s Tedrick Wolfe said the league leaders ‘fought tooth and nail’ to get the win.
“We’ve just come off a little break and we won, so we’ll take the W, but we’ve got some things we have to clean up defensively,” Wolfe said.
“As far as the game goes, we fought tooth and nail, so a win is a win. We’ll take it.”
Libertas, now unbeaten in seven games, are on course for yet another first-place finish in the regular season after last year’s feat.
“That’s very important because you want to stay ahead, and you don’t want to be in the mix with the rest of the teams. Being undefeated right now, it gives us a huge gap against the better teams like Starlites,” Wolfe explained, “you want to keep it that way, but we’ve still got some work to do. As long as we stay on course and continue to work together, I don’t see that changing.”
The former Wayland Pioneers forward was named November’s BOV Player of the Month after a fantastic start to the league campaign, and this effort has been replicated in all of Mellieha’s games so far. Ahead of Sunday’s game, Wolfe was already the side’s top scorer with 175 points in six league games, going 55.7% from the field. However, he believes three-pointers – 21.4% so far – are the area he needs to work harder on.
“I’ve got some things I need to work on. Shooting-wise, especially the three-pointers, I’ve got be more confident, but just being one of the top players in the league right now, I mean, that’s what I strive to do,” he explained.
“I thrive on scoring because I want to help my team. I don’t just do it for the personal aspect. I do it because I want to see my teammates happy. And I want us to win – I want us to succeed, so I think that’s just scoring, rebounding, and defending.”
In Sunday’s opening game, Nikola Bozovic struck first for Depiro with a midrange score 30 seconds into proceedings but Mellieha’s Vukasin Jandric hit 2024’s first Division One three-pointer, and Wolfe the first dunk, moments later to hand Libertas their first lead.
The league leaders continued to push but Depiro powerhouse Kameron Rooks, who finished the game with a 29 points-27 rebounds double-double, broke a 9-0 run before Cameron Cornelius brought the gap to three points midway through the first quarter.
A pair of Rooks freethrows brought Depiro to a point with Cornelius changing the lead. Bozovic and Miguel Mallia got their first threes of the game as the Mtarfa side opened their first gap on top. However, Mellieha’s Corrado Mercurio, Jandric and Kwame Thompson hit from deep in reply and another Wolfe dunk brought the sides level with 1.35 to go in the quarter.
Mellieha’s Robert Bonnici opened the second quarter with a layup after a minute and a half before Rooks kept things at par with a putback. But seconds later, Mellieha captain David Bugeja, who finished with a 16 points-12 rebounds double-double, found an open lane to the hoop to retake the lead before Thompson rose through contact to open a four-point advantage. Open at the corner, Jandric hit from three again but Cornelius stopped Mellieha’s run with two layups from close range. The game was as close as ever and it was just a two-point differential at the halftime break as Mellieha led 43-41.
Cornelius brought his side back level with the first basket of the second half. Despite the size mismatch when it came to guarding Rooks, it was still Mellieha who led until Nenad Bukva shocked them with a corner three. Depiro retook the lead for 53-57, albeit momentarily as Thompson was accurate from three to take it back.
Unfazed, Cornelius hit a near identical three-ball and the two sides were level again 2.43 away from the final rubber. Despite this, Mellieha got into the bonus and six freethrows later, they led by five ahead of the fourth quarter.
The final set of minutes took a physical turn as the game looked for its winner. By half the quarter, Depiro were in the bonus but down by three points. Mallia made it a two-point game with seconds to go but Mellieha held firm to stay the only unbeaten side this season in the campaign.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 25, D. Bugeja 16, R. Bonnici 2, V. Jandric 10, I. Bonett 1, K. Thompson 24, C. Mercurio 6.
SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 5, A. Aquilina 6, N. Grech 3, M. Mallia 10, C. Cornelius 18, N. Bukva 11, M. Debattista.
Referees B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, N. Rincon.
STARLITES JSD 122
(18-36, 13-31, 24-30, 19-25)
Luxol’s Nathan Xuereb opened the game with a mid-range effort but Alec Felice Pace replied with a three-pointer before Kurt James hit from close range as Starlites began to impose their game.
JP Schembri broke a 9-0 Starlites run with a three-ball and Tariq Woody, who finished as the game’s top scorer with 30 points, brought it to within two. Offence was with the Naxxar side as they broke free from the Luxol defence to go into a double-digit lead after a Christian Hickson triple. Further three-balls from Ian Felice Pace, Matt Attard, and Miguel Fabri continued to cement Starlites in the lead for an 18-point lead at the first buzzer.
The second quarter started just like the previous had ended as Starlites’ James hit from deep to reopen proceedings. The title-holders were in control at both ends of the court, forcing a Luxol timeout as the gap grew to 21 three minutes into the rubber. Fabri hit twice from deep to send Starlites 30 points ahead with 1.33 to go in the half as Luxol struggled to hit back.
The second half would have to be Luxol’s revival to get the game back into the balance but with Woody and Xuereb the only Violets scorers throughout most of the third quarter, and countering the free flow of shots from Starlites a constant issue, Luxol’s deficit grew to over 40 in the final seconds of the rubber.
Starlites overcame the 100-point mark early in the fourth and coach Paul Ferrante gradually affected rotation which saw under-23 players Kai Fabri, Neil Sultana, and Sean Aquilina enter the game. The latter went on to hit from three while making four assists in a positive season debut, while Sultana made the gap 48 with a final layup for a Starlites blowout.
LUXOL S. Pace 1, I. Azzopardi 4, N. Jovanovic 2, A. Azzopardi 2, JP Schembri 3, N. Xuereb 14, G. Hulsen 9, T. Woody 30, M. Matijevic 9.
STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 16, C. Hinckson 19, M. Attard 24, S. Aquilina 3, I. Felice Pace 9, M. fabri 16, K. Fabri, D. Craven 11, N. Sultana 4, K. James 20.
Referees A. Bayraktar, N. Azzopardi, F. Fabok.
Hibernians beat brave Valletta on Brennen debut
VALLETTA FIGHTERS 100
(24-16, 29-28, 29-26, 25-30)
New Hibs signing Brennen could not have had a better start to his stint in Malta when he completed a 26 points-10 rebounds double-double on his debut. On Sunday, the former Manhattan College player started his Paolites career with a three-pointer before Valletta’s Andy Attard replied with a close-range jumper.
From then on, Hibs began to control proceedings, going into double-digits as Brennen and an inspired Mason Hix (30pts-17 rebounds-8ast) combined for 14 points in the opening half of the first quarter. Nikola Vasovic made it 16-6 with his first score of the day but Keith Charleston and Neil Cassar made it an eight-point game with 3.35 to go.
Former Athleta player Julian Wait made his return to the league to debut from the bench for the Citizens, scoring his first points in the final two minutes as, together with Charleston and Cassar, Valletta brought it down to three points. Nevertheless, Hibs were back up by eight at the first buzzer.
Valletta hit five straight points to start the second quarter, Desean Mattox – the game’s scoring leader with 40 points – hitting a mid-range jumpshot before a Jhun Jhun Lisondra long-ranger.
Hix went into double-digits with a dunk and a put-back, Brennen joining him with another score as Hibs went back up ahead by eight. A chase ensued from Valletta but Hibs kept up their accuracy to maintain a nine-point lead by halftime.
Mattox took over Valletta’s scoring after the change of ends but Ivan Demcesen, who had had a quiet start to the game, was back in scoring form and became his side’s dominant point-getter, eventually finishing the game with a double-double of 26 points and 17 rebounds, as Hibs stayed 12 points ahead of the final quarter.
The Citizens stepped up their game in the final quarter, but Hibs remained on top to finish seven points ahead for another win.
HIBERNIANS P. Zammit, B. Zammit, L. Farrugia 3, N. Vasovic 12, A. Axiaq 2, M. Attard 8, M. Hix 30, I. Demcesen 26, N. Brennen 26.
VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 27, D. Bellinzona 2, S. Saakian, J. Wait 2, D. Mattox 40, A. Attard 5, J. Lisondra 6, N. Cassar 18.
Referees A. Bayraktar, J. Londono, F. Ciurariu.
Mellieha Libertas 14; Hibernians 12; Athleta 11; Starlites JSD 10; Luxol, SiGMA Depiro 9; Valletta Fighters 7.
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