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Kousidis lauds ‘unselfish’ Athleta players after Hibernians victory

Athleta guard Malik Riddle (left) tries to get past Hibernians' Nick Brennen. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Starlites break Mellieha’s unbeaten run

Athleta took the spoils against Hibernians as the BOV Men’s Division One championship returned for another round. League leaders Mellieha Libertas saw their seven-game winning streak taken away by Malta champions Starlites JSD after Luxol took the win over a brave Valletta Fighters.



(26-25, 20-22, 12-19, 18-20)

Sunday’s clash between Athleta and Hibernians was considered a bottom-of-the-table contest in recent years. However, it is far from the case this season as both sides look revitalised.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Athleta coach Christos Kousidis said his side’s target this season is to reach the playoffs in a league that “is so competitive that every team beat anyone”.

“We are still in the middle of the season, but it was a great result for us to win against Hibs for the second time. Me and my players are trying to build a family this season, and I see them how supportive they are to each other and how they push each other, something that of course makes any coach happy,” Kousidis explained.

“(On Sunday) we missed two of our players – Cesco (Mifsud Bonnici) and Teo (Chatzimoysis) for different reasons but we still managed to keep focused on our plan.

“Our defence is our strong side, even if we are still working on being consistent, but still we have the best one in the league at the moment. We conceded 46 in the first half which was not good but in the second one, we started guarding Hibs more aggressively, focused on their inside game but also went higher on their best shooters.

“If you ask me, it was absolutely a result of great teamwork and I am proud of my players.”

“Unfortunately, because of the holidays’ break, we had a lower performance than what we were expecting but hopefully we will go stronger in the next one. We’ll take the win, a decent performance, and we move forward step by step.”

Athleta guard Malik Riddle has been in inspired form this season, the November Player of the Month winner putting up 43 points, nine rebounds, and six assists against Hibs.

Asked about the value of Riddle to his team, Kousidis remarked that teamwork from every player lets the US guard show his game.

“Malik (Riddle) is one of the best in the league. Obviously, he is one of our main threats offensively, but we are always trying to focus on our teamwork. Most of his scoring comes out of a great team defence which gives him the opportunity of stealing and running the floor.

“It’s all teamwork and for me, it’s not all about scoring. DaJuan (Moorer), for example, scored 13, but he had an amazing performance. Double-double with 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks and he helped the team to defend both in the paint and the perimeter.

“All the team did the dirty work which is needed for a winning season. We moved the ball well, trying to play our unselfish game. We try to find always the best option, move the ball and find open shots. everyone can score, everyone can take the shot if they are open.”

Hibs’ Ivan Demcesen, who continued his run of 20+ point games, opened proceedings 40 seconds into the game, but Piotr Stelmach hit from three-point range to give Athleta their first lead.

Nick Brennen hit one of two freethrows to level the score early on, making amends with a three-ball. However, Stelmach was accurate again to reply with one himself.

A Hibernians 6-1 run gave them a five-point lead but Athleta were back level after a Riddle layup and a Matthew Gouder three-ball.

This tit-for-tat continued with Riddle switching leads with another three two minutes away from the first buzzer. Hix put his side back ahead before two Riddle scores kept up the tension, but Demcesen had the final say to send the two sides to their benches at 26-25.

Athleta’s defence came into play in the second rubber as Kousidis’s clan restricted Hibs to outside shots while Stelmach and Riddle kept up their effective scoring in the paint. Luca Stefanovic gave the Maroons the lead, but Brennen was on hand to maintain Hibs’ lead with impressive play.

Midway through the quarter, Moorer took over with several rebounds which eventually led to his 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. However, it was just a one-point difference once more as the first half finished with Athleta in the lead.

Stefanovic opened the second half scoring with a drive through the Hibs defence and this kickstarted Athleta’s charge leading to full points from a Riddle and-one to give the Maroons a 10-point lead with 5.42 to go in the third quarter. Hibs attempted to fight back but could only manage to regroup before the final quarter eight points behind.

With the final 3.36 to go, Athleta were up to their highest lead of 15 points after a Juan Garcia Cefai triple and they maintained their advantage, ending the game 10 points ahead of the closest rivals for a long-wished-for playoff spot.

HIBERNIANS P. Attard, L. Farrugia 2, N. Vasovic 2, A. Axiaq, M. Attard 6, M. Hix 18, I. Demcesen 27, N. Brennen 21.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 43, N. Buhagiar, L. Stefanovic 7, D. Moorer 13, M. Gouder 5, R. Abela, P. Stelmach 15, J. Garcia Cefai 3.

Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Azzopardi, N. Rincon.



(29-26, 12-30, 16-21, 22-17)

Mellieha’s seven-game unbeaten streak came to an end on Sunday as two shaky quarters around the halftime break provided Starlites their fifth win on the season.

Starlites’ Davonte Craven, who finished with a 21-point 14-rebound double-double, started the scoring after a great team pass-around on the Mellieha perimeter, but Robert Bonnici made the most out of an and-one play to put coach Ian Terribile’s clan ahead before Tedrick Wolfe made it a three-point game on the next possession.

 As expected, the game was turning into an exciting encounter as the title holders and league leaders battled each other, with Mellieha keeping a six-point lead midway through the quarter. Nevertheless, an Alec Felice Pace three-pointer shifted the lead to the Naxxar side to force a timeout with 2.33 to go. Corrado Mercurio scored the game’s next three, Wolfe hitting another as Mellieha led by three at the first buzzer.

Craven was back up to bring the game to a point as play resumed. Missing the chance to complete an and-one, the US forward made amends with a pair of freethrows in a 4-0 run for Starlites, opening the gap on top despite Kwame Thompson’s charge. The Mellieha guard put up a game-high 31-point performance but Starlites led 56-41 at the halftime break.

Mellieha came out gunning after the change of ends and Vukasin Jandric pushed through contact to score first, before hitting from three-point range to make it a 10-point game. Thompson made it a six-point deficit after two consecutive scores from steals.

Miguel Fabri and Kurt James let Starlites breathe again before two Ian Felice Pace long-range scores extended the lead to 20.

It was Starlites’ game to lose in the final quarter as Mellieha’s unbeaten record began to look likely to end. Nevertheless, Thompson hit first in the fourth quarter. James, who joined Craven as the only two double-double finishers with 21 points and 15 rebounds, answered with a close-range effort and it was as close as ever until the final buzzer gave the points to coach Paul Ferrante and his team.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 23, D. Bugeja, R. Bonnici 6, V. Jandric 15, I. Bonett, K. Thompson 31, E. Valdespina 1, C. Mercurio 3.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 17, C. Hinckson 14, M. Attard 3, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri 9, D. Craven 21, K. James 21.

Referees B. Vassallo, J. Londono, F. Ciurariu.

Luxol too strong for Citizens



(23-9, 20-31, 24-20, 30-20)

In a battle between teams desperate for points, Luxol earned their third league victory over a brave Valletta side in a game that could have gone either way.

Luxol’s Nathan Xuereb made a statement opening in a 23-point showing with a three-pointer on the first play of the game. Isaac Azzopardi hit next from deep before 25-point Keith Charleston got Valletta’s first points. In a range of long-range passing, Luxol had a 10-point lead after a Tariq Woody dunk. This lead was pushed to 14 by the first buzzer.

Gael Hulsen scored first from mid-range as the second quarter ensued. A Charleston and-one pushed Valletta past the 10-point mark but Luxol were visibly stronger in the first half. Further scores from double-double finisher Woody (31pts-12 reb) and Xuereb put Duncan Fenech’s side up by 20 with 7.30 to go.

The Citizens went on a 6-0 run midway through the rubber but Marko Matijevic dropped a teardrop shot to stop this momentum. Neil Cassar hit a behind-the-back assist from Jhun Jhun Lisondra before hitting a layup himself for Valletta as the gap shrunk to 12 with 4.25 to go in the half. This sparked a revival among coach Harry Savaya’s clan to finish the rubber down 43-40.

Lisondra made it a one-point game with the first basket after the change of ends and Charleston gave Valletta their first lead of the day off a Desean Mattox assist in the last three minutes of the third quarter. However, it was Luxol back in a seven-point lead at the buzzer ahead of the deciding battle.

A pinpoint pass from JP Schembri found Xuereb who made it a double-digit game with a three-ball immediately as play restarted. The former went from passer to shooter as Schembri fired home from deep as time began to run out for Valletta.

Luxol were back up by 20 with six minutes to go in the game and there was no coming back as the Violets kept matching the fighters’ efforts to take the win.

LUXOL S. Pace, I. Azzopardi 8, N. Jovanovic 6, JP Schembri 9, N. Xuereb 23, G. Hulsen 10, T. Woody 31, M. Matijevic 10.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 25, D. Bellinzona, J. Wait 2, D. Mattox 41, A. Attard, J. Lisondra 6, N. Cassar 6.

Referees B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, F. Fabok.


Mellieha Libertas 15; Athleta, Hibernians 13; Starlites JSD 12; Luxol 11; SiGMA Depiro 9; Valletta Fighters 8.

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