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Starlites embracing ‘X on our back’ says James after Depiro victory

Starlites' Kurt James (left) looks for a lane against Depiro. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Athleta edge past Luxol to stay second

A day of hotly contested fixtures was scheduled for Sunday and the three games surely did not disappoint as Starlites JSD and Athleta scored close victories over SiGMA Depiro and Luxol, while Valletta Fighters will have to continue their wait for a first league victory after a second half domination by Mellieha Libertas.

STARLITES JSD 85

SIGMA DEPIRO 82

(24-27, 30-17, 14-31, 17-7)

The title holders may have taken the two points, but it was not without a challenge from Depiro and Starlites forward Kurt James believes it was down to adjustments made throughout the game.

“I feel like it was a good game for us. We came out a little stagnant, but you know, basketball is a game of runs, a game of adjustments,” James told the Times of Malta.

“I feel like we made our adjustments and they didn’t stay the same so that’s ultimately all we can ask for.

“Depiro are a good team. They came out really hungry, really aggressive, and kind of persistent the whole game. But we made the right adjustments.”

James, who joined Starlites as a replacement for Malik Lorquet before the start of the league campaign, has been a standout performer for coach Paul Ferrante’s side, but said he ‘lets the game come to him’.

“I just try to do whatever we need. I never have it in my head ‘I have to score X amount of points’ or ‘I’ve got to do this or that’. My goal is to stay active on the offensive glass and make sure I get my assists and let the game come to me,” he explained.

“My teammates play a really high double, so I don’t need to force a shot – I know they’ll be able to create and vice versa. I just try to create for them and just try to take the load off, try to dribble the ball up some and just be multi-purpose, multi-positional, and just make everybody’s life a little bit easier.”

Asked about how tough it will be for Starlites to maintain their momentum in search of their third straight title, James believes playing against Starlites gives opponents more motivation.

“It’s only going to get tougher and tougher just because, you know, we’re always going to have that X on our back as back-to-back champions,” the former Zentro Basket player said.

“When teams play us, they’re always going to be motivated. They could be playing somebody else, but when they play Starlites, it’s going to be extra motivation. That’s how it is. it’s going to be tougher every game, it’ll be tougher for us but we’re just going to stay together, stay a family, and just stay consistent. There’s nothing we’re going to run from – we just embrace it.”

Nenad Bukva hit the first points of the day for Depiro before Starlites’ Alec Felice Pace equalised.

Depiro looked stronger in the opening minutes and Miguel Mallia got the next basket after driving through contact. Kameron Rooks added one before Starlites’ Davonte Craven stopped an early run with full points from an and-one play.

Despite this, Bukva hit from long-distance before Cameron Cornelius and Andrew Aquilina both scored from close range to put Depiro in a double-digit lead with 6.34 to go in the quarter.

Newly signed Jacob Bourke-Doggett was introduced into the game, but it was fellow guard Matt Attard who took over Starlites’ offence, hitting two of four shots from three-point land, and another midrange score to force a Depiro timeout.

Depiro brought on their own new signing Alfred Hollins Jr for his debut and he got his first points seconds into the showing with a complete and-one play.

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Kurt James was the brains of Starlites’ operation in the second quarter as multiple interceptions led to Starlites retaking the lead. Combining with Felice Pace, the duo put up six consecutive points as Starlites pushed the margin up to double-digits before Miguel Fabri hit from three to make it a 13-point game with seconds to go in the first half.

With Depiro down 54-44 at the change of ends, Hollins opened the second half with a close-range jump shot before Rooks scored from a put-back. Aquilina and Sean Galea both hit from deep as the deficit was cancelled.

James stopped Depiro’s 14-2 run with 5.29 to go in the third quarter before Ian Felice Pace put Starlites back in the lead. Two threes from Aquilina and Cornelius before another Rooks putback shifted the lead onto the Mtarfa side yet again before Alec Felice Pace levelled with another three-ball.

Starlites were in foul trouble with a minute to go and with Depiro back in form, the final quarter would see the latter starting in front 75-68.

The first basket of the final rubber took two minutes to fall as Rooks secured second-chance points off an Aquilina shot. Ian Felice Pace hit from deep to keep it a six-point game. Further threes and a Christian Hinckson score shifted all the momentum in Starlites’ favour with less than half the quarter to go.

With seconds to go, it was just a one-point game until Hinckson was once again the difference maker to give the team a three-point victory.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 19, C. Hinckson 6, M. Attard 14, I. Felice Pace 12, M. Fabri 3, D. Craven 7, J. Bourke Doggett 4, K. James 20.

SIGMA DEPIRO S. Galea 4, N. Bozovic 1, A. Aquilina 11, N. Grech, A. Hollins 15, K. Rooks 22, M. Mallia 7, C. Cornelius 11, N. Bukva 9, M. Debattista 2.

Referees B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, N. Rincon.

ATHLETA 69

LUXOL 67

(20-14, 15-15, 19-18, 15-20)

It was as fast a start as ever and it was Luxol’s defence that stood out in the opening session of play, keeping out countless attempts from the likes of Malik Riddle, Dajuan Moorer and Piotr Stelmach.

At the other end of the court, however, Tariq Woody became the first player in double digits. Luxol’s JP Schembri grabbed the last points of the quarter, but it was a six-point Athleta lead by the first buzzer.

Luxol improved their offence as Schembri made it a two-point game before Woody hit from close-range in between a Francesco Mifsud Bonnici freethrow early in the second quarter. However, it was Athleta’s Riddle who sparked his side back to life to reopen a five-point lead after a Matthew Gouder three-ball. It was as physical as ever and after no less than eight fouls, the teams went back to their dressing rooms for halftime at 35-29 in Athleta’s favour.

Marko Matijevic and Gael Hulsen took over the Luxol offence to level proceedings as the game restarted. The Violets were in the bonus as the fourth quarter drew closer but scores from Riddle and Stelmach kept Athleta’s spirits as they rallied for a seven-point lead before the buzzer.

Nikola Jovanovic brought Luxol fans up to their feet with a three-pointer but Athleta supporters were equally ecstatic when Moorer met an alley-oop pass for a dunk to keep his side up by four. Nevertheless, Luxol managed to change the lead and open a three-point advantage from a Woody three-pointer.

Stelmach and Woody traded threes as long-distance seemed the way to go in the final bouts of the game. Despite this, it was two close-range Moorer scores that gave Athleta a late lead. To make matters worse, Nathan Xuereb, who had had a frustrating game, faced even more woes after being fouled out after illegally stopping a Riddle fastbreak. A technical freethrow and two more shots from the charity line meant a two-point win for Athleta as Woody completed his 40-point performance with a halfcourt buzzer-beater.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 27, F. Mifsud Bonnici 5, N. Buhagiar, L. Stefanovic, D. Moorer 17, M. Gouder 5, R. Abela, P. Stelmach 15, T. Chatzimoysis, J. Garcia Cefai.

LUXOL I. Azzopardi 2, N. Jovanovic 8, JP Schembri 5, N. Xuereb, G. Hulsen 6, T. Woody 40, M. Matijevic 6, S. Cappello.

Referees G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Azzopardi.

Mellieha back to winning ways

VALLETTA FIGHTERS 68

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 86

(19-9, 13-25, 15-25, 21-27)

Valletta Fighters showcased new local-foreigner signing Nelson Da Silva on Sunday as Citizens guard Davide Bellinzona started in place of injured Desean Mattox. Instead, it was Neil Cassar who opened proceedings, before Tedrick Wolfe responded for Mellieha.

Points came at a premium throughout the opening rubber, fouls putting Valletta in the bonus. In spite of a Robert Bonnici three-ball in the final seconds, it was a 10-point Valletta lead after the first quarter.

It was an opening far from what Mellieha were used to so far, and the first time this season to have a single-digit quarter. However, this was not the case in the second as Kwame Thompson and Wolfe ramped up the Mellieha offence to bring the margin down to two points while Keith Charleston and Neil Cassar led the Valletta charge. Nevertheless, two Isaac Bonett scores gave Mellieha the lead right before the halftime break.

After the change of ends, Vukasin Jandric, who was kept out of most of the first half due to early fouls, returned to go into double digits. It was Mellieha’s quarter as Valletta began to falter and despite a Bellinzona triple, the Northerners were up by 12 ahead of the fourth.

Charleston and Bellinzona opened the final set of minutes with a three-ball each as the Citizens returned to a single-digit deficit. Despite Valletta’s late attempt to retake the advantage, Mellieha’s experience came to the fore as coach Ivan Terribile’s clan got back to winning ways.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 23, D. Bellinzona 11, N. Da Silva 4, J. Wait 4, A. Attard 3, M. Farrugia, J. Lisondra 3, N. Cassar 20.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 22, D. Bugeja 9, R. Bonnici 7, V. Jandric 17, I. Bonett 10, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 21, E. Valdespina, C. Mercurio.

Referees 19-9, 13-25, 15-25, 21-27)

STANDINGS

Mellieha Libertas 17; Gzira Athleta 15; Starlites 14; Hibernians 13; Luxol 12; SiGMA Depiro 10; Valletta Fighters 9.

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