Depiro survive scare to beat Hibernians
Mellieha Libertas got back to winning ways last weekend when they blew out Luxol with a 57-point victory at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion on Sunday. It was a game that saw Mellieha keeping their top spot for yet another week while it was one to forget for Luxol who struggled to make an impact.
Meanwhile, SiGMA Depiro overcame their fourth-quarter demons to keep hope alive for the final playoff spot with a win against Hibernians.
Athleta remain in contention for the post-season even after defeat to title holder Starlites JSD in the final game of the afternoon.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 118
(29-10, 24-21, 35-15, 30-15)
While the team effort was crucial for Sunday’s victory, one of the standouts was certainly Mellieha shooting guard Robert Bonnici who came off the bench to score 24 points, level with Tedrick Wolfe, who was a starter for coach Ian Terribile’s roster, at the top of the game’s scoring chart.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Bonnici said the team needed ‘a win like this’ after their previous defeat to Hibs.
“It’s always good to win like we did today, after the Hibs defeat, we needed a win like this,” Bonnici said.
“Everyone on our squad is of a high level so if we continue playing as a team, we’ll do very well this year. This win also means we stay first in the standings, and this gives us a great position for the playoffs.”
Asked about his performance on the day, where he scored 10 out of 14 attempts – 50% from three-point range – Bonnici said he constantly strives to help the team in the best way he can.
‘My game is mostly outside the perimeter, and we have Alex (Peacock) who opens up the play a lot. Today I was quite open on the wings and if I’m open, I’m going to score.
“When it’s your day, shots will fall but week in, week out, I work on my percentage so that I can contribute and help the team as much as I can.”
Mellieha faced yet another game without captain David Bugeja but were at their best to cruise past Luxol and avenge the previous week’s defeat to Hibernians.
Isaac Bonett opened proceedings with a three-pointer before Vukasin Jandric made it a five-point lead. Isaac Azzopardi responded for Luxol but it was hardly the brightest start for Luxol as they struggled to contain Mellieha’s opening rush, leading to a double-digit margin in less than five minutes.
The Northerners looked better stacked and this became clear with the entrance of Bonnici who came on to replace Corrado Mercurio and hit eight straight points – two three-pointers and a layup – and add to Luxol’s woes as the first quarter moved closer to its end.
Both in the bonus with two minutes to go, Luxol were struggling to make their shots and a Stefan Cappello three-ball helped keep the Violets in the game as Mellieha held a 19-point advantage at the first buzzer.
Luxol’s Nathan Xuereb opened the second quarter by scoring from a fastbreak score before Tariq Woody hit next from under the hoop. But it was again Bonnici who hit from deep to stop any halt of a Luxol run. Wolfe then made a 20-point game with 7.40 to go till halftime.
Wolfe became the team’s dynamo in the first half with two blocks, double-digits scoring and assists to keep his side up by 20 points, amid constant attempts from Woody and Cappello.
Luxol started to grow in stature and with Mellieha in foul trouble, coach Duncan Fenech’s clan began to fight back. Nevertheless, Mellieha kept their cool to finish 53-31 at the break.
Violets forward Nikola Jovanovic opened the second half with a mid-range jumpshot but Mellieha’s Bonett replied with a three-ball. Jovanovic got him back with one of his own but as a team, Luxol were far from their best on offence. In fact, apart from a Marko Matijevic layup, Jovanovic was the team’s only scorer of the quarter while Mellieha’s Kwame Thompson got into double-digits with non-stop steals and fastbreak scores, as Alexander Peacock and eventually Thompson’s replacement Wolfe extended their lead to 34 points with 2.50 to go, and 41 a minute later.
Already a mountain to climb for Luxol, Mellieha’s Thompson started the final quarter with a three-pointer before Mercurio added another. Youngsters Sebastian Pace and Adam Azzopardi both scored for Luxol, the former being accurate from three-point range. But Ryan Carabott and Thompson fired in a quick response to start another Mellieha onslaught and keep themselves at a safe distance until the final buzzer.
|I. Bonett 8, C. Mercurio 6, V. Jandric 11, A. Peacock 15, T. Wolfe 24, R. Bonnici 24, R. Carabott 4, K. Thompson 19, E. Valdespina 7.
|I. Azzopardi 2, JP Schembri, N. Xuereb 6, G. Hulsen 4, T. Woody 11, S. Pace 4, N. Jovanovic 10, A. Azzopardi 11, M. Matijevic 2, S. Cappello 11.
|G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi, F. Fabok.
SIGMA DEPIRO 85
(26-17, 16-25, 20-16, 23-25)
Cameron Cornelius opened the game’s scoring before Anton Axiaq hit one from two freethrows and Luke Farrugia hit from three. Axiaq grabbed second-chance points on the team’s next play before Andrew Aquilina replied with a three as both sides started the game on a strong note.
In a tight encounter, both teams responded to each other’s advances to finish nine points apart with Depiro in the lead at the first buzzer.
Hibs centre Ivan Demcesen opened the second quarter scoring before Alfred Hollins Jr responded. Depiro looked the more dangerous side going ahead by double digits on numerous occasions but Hibs remained productive to make the most out of getting into the bonus. In turn, they dropped the deficit and levelled the game at 42-42 by the halftime buzzer.
Hibs took the lead as the second half started but it remained a very close margin throughout as Depiro projected their offence onto centre Kameron Rooks who rose to double digits with multiple scores in the paint. At the other end of the court, the absence of import guard Nick Brennen – who was out for the game – was a major setback for Hibernians. Demcesen was the focal point for the Paolites after athletic openings from Mason Hix.
Depiro’s Cameron Cornelius used his experience to execute perfectly-timed mid-air interceptions and shift the ball forward as Depiro remained on top by four ahead of the final rubber.
This lead grew to 10 as the Mtarfa side looked more consistent in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. The next ones would be a test of character after having failed to maintain their advantage after final-quarter pressure in the past two games. And it seemed the troubles would remain as Hix brought Hibs to within three with 2.03 to go.
With 1.02 remaining, Axiaq scored all points from an and-one play, a foul which also gave Nikola Bozovic his marching orders, and Hibs the bonus. With 30 seconds on the clock, Farrugia hit from three and Hibs were now in front.
Cornelius levelled with a corner three before coach Ruben Baldacchino called a time-out with one last play to keep the game from going into overtime. The plan worked as Cornelius was again the hero with a mid-range jumper, a second from time, to win the game.
|N. Bozovic 5, A. Aquilina 15, K. Rooks 23, M. Mallia, C. Cornelius 18, N. Grech, A. Hollins Jr 13, M. Brincat 5, N. Bukva 6, M. Debattista.
|P. Attard, L. Farrugia 18, A. Axiaq 13, M. Hix 21, I. Demcesen 25, M. Attard 4, B. Zammit 2.
|Z. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Rincon, A. Bayraktar.
STARLITES JSD 84
(20-14, 22-26, 19-18, 23-21)
In the final game of the day, Starlites celebrated guard Matthew Scerri’s return with a five-point victory over Athleta.
Davonte Craven issued Starlites’ opening statement with a mid-range jumpshot but Francesco Mifsud Bonnici made sure to respond in the best way with a three-pointer.
Starlites’ Craven and Kurt James showed off their strength on offence with two straight makes before Athleta big men Piotr Stelmach and Dajuan Moorer kept the game in the balance.
The usual free-scoring Malik Riddle was Starlites’ main target on defence and the American guard was kept to just four opening-quarter points as Starlites led by six at the first buzzer.
James opened the second quarter and Christian Hinckson gave Starlites a 10-point lead with a pair of freethrows. Athleta’s Luca Stefanovic hit from three before Riddle and Moorer both drove to the hoop in between a Hinckson score.
On defence, Starlites were the more physical side but this also gave Athleta the bonus halfway through the rubber and their lead began to diminish as the number of freethrows increased. Even after the intelligent play from coach Christo Kousidis’ clan, Starlites survived to finish the first half two points ahead.
James got the first basket of the second half but Athleta made it a one-point game with a three-ball. Once more, a team was in the bonus with half of the quarter to go but contrary to the second rubber, Starlites were the cleaner side in their defence this time. Despite the bonus, they could only finish three points ahead at the third buzzer.
With a margin so small, it was only a matter of time before Stelmach drew level with a threeball as the final quarter ensued. Starlites however, hit back with a pair of threes from Alec Felice Pace and James.
Athleta’s Matthew Gouder added another long-distance score to the mix before Hinckson had the last say in the three-point argument as Starlites led by 10.
The Maroons have been known to keep up their fight until the end of each game this season and they proved this once again but there was nothing they could do to get past a tough Starlites defence who held firm despite their late foul trouble.
|A. Felice Pace 20, I. Felice Pace, M. Scerri 2, D. Craven 11, K. James 19, C. Hinckson 20, M. Attard 6, M. Fabri 3, J. Bourke-Doggett 3.
|M. Riddle 26, F. Mifsud Bonnici 4, L. Stefanovic 3, D. Moorer 13, P. Stelmach 20, N. Buhagiar, M. Gouder 10, J. Cefai 3.
|Z. Dobrosaviljevic, F. Ciurariu, N. Rincon.
Mellieha Libertas 22; Athleta 19; Starlites JSD 18; Hibernians 17; Luxol, SiGMA Depiro 15; Valletta Fighters* 11.
*Valletta did not feature last weekend.
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