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Starlites ‘always out to compete’ says Hinckson after Hibs comeback win

Starlites' Christian Hinckson (second-right) grabs a rebound under the Hibernians hoop. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Depiro defeat Luxol after Woody departure

Title holders Starlites JSD proved their mettle last weekend when they came back from a 19-point deficit to beat Hibernians. Athleta escaped a shock defeat to Valletta Fighters with a fourth-quarter rush to stay on course for a top-three spot in this season’s BOV Men’s Division One playoffs. Finally, SiGMA Depiro pushed past Luxol in the day’s late game.

HIBERNIANS 70

STARLITES JSD 79

(31-18, 20-21, 8-18, 11-22)

On Sunday, Starlites turned around what looked destined to be a Hibernians return to winning ways into a comeback win that keeps their run to the playoffs on course. Speaking to the Times of Malta after the game, Starlites forward Christian Hinckson said it was their modus operandi to ‘battle hard’.

“We battled hard and fought to come back. I don’t know how much we had to get back but one thing about Starlites is that we’re going to battle no matter what – so we did that. We have a deep bench so anybody who is able to step out will help,” Hinckson said.

Starlites have two games in hand and this could be key to their fight for the top spot at such a delicate time of the campaign. Asked about this, Hinckson said each game from now onwards will be important.

“I feel like every game is important. It’s important, no matter who it is, and we’re always going to come out to compete,” he explained.

“It doesn’t matter who’s on the floor, but I feel like every game that we play, we’re looking to win.”

Game top scorer Mason Hix (30pts-10reb) kicked off the scoring before Matthew Attard hit from deep in a quick start for Hibernians. Fellow double-double finisher Ivan Demcesen, with 20 points and 14 rebounds, added another four points before Starlites coach Paul Ferrante called an early timeout.

Hinckson stopped a 9-0 run with a layup, and Alec Felice Pace hit from three-point range. Still, Hibs’ Luke Farrugia scored an identical three-ball before another Demcesen basket for a double-digit lead five minutes into the game.

Hix opened the second quarter with a mid-range score but Kurt James replied for Starlites with a three-ball. Starlites managed to bring the gap down to single digits, but Hibs got into the bonus with half of the second quarter to go. Both Hix and Demcesen were in double-digits by then, but it was Hibs’ defence which kept them up 51-39 at the halftime break.

Starlites’s Davonte Craven put the first points on the board after the change of ends to make it a 10-point deficit. After a rough start to the game, the Naxxar side were now settling in and they managed to minimize the gap to just a point with 2.15 to go in the third quarter.

It had become another side of the story as Hibs struggled to keep up their earlier fight. Felice Pace momentarily levelled terms with an and-one play but Hix scored again to give the Paolites a two-point lead ahead of the final quarter.

With a much deeper bench, Starlites played the long game on Sunday and this panned out just as planned with Matthew Scerri returning to the court to hit two straight three-pointers as the Naxxar side took the lead in the fourth quarter. Starlites forward James fouled out ahead of the final five minutes but it was another win over a visibly exhausted Hibs side. 

HIBERNIANS L. Farrugia 7, A. Axiaq 2, M. Attard 11, M. Hix 30, I. Demcesen 20, P. Attard.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 16, C. Hinckson 15, M. Scerri 6, D. Craven 14, J. Bourke-Doggett, M. Attard 12, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri, L. Farrugia, K. James 16.

Referees B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, F. Ciurariu.

Starlites forward Kurt James (left) tries to get past Hibernians’ Anton Axiaq. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

ATHLETA 77

VALLETTA FIGHTERS 71

(9-15, 15-12, 25-24, 28-20)

Athleta continued their run for post-season qualification with a fourth-quarter victory over Valletta Fighters. It was a clash which could have gone the other way were it not for Athleta’s mental strength to come back from behind after a shaky opening.

Valletta had the best start when game-top-scorer Desean Mattox (37 points) drove through the crowded paint for his side’s first points around a minute into the game. Keith Charleston, who finished with a 17 points-21 rebounds double-double, added another two from a pair of layups.

Athleta’s Dajuan Moorer – the team’s leader in scoring on the day with 30 points, and 15 rebounds – bagged his side’s opener but the Citizens looked stronger on defence in the opening stages while Athleta, missing Matthew Gouder on Sunday, struggled to hit their shots. Gradually Valletta made it a six-point lead before the first buzzer.

Mattox was again the first scorer as the second quarter began. It took close to four minutes for Athleta to respond but they finally did with a Piotr Stelmach triple. Moorer then added a layup as the gap went down to four with 5.41 to go in the first half. Malik Riddle, who finished with a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds, made it two and Valletta coach Harry Savaya called timeout.

The Maroons looked better settled as the quarter progressed but it was still a Valletta lead at halftime with the teams divided at 27-24.

Athleta levelled terms immediately when Stelmach hit another three-pointer after the break. Neil Cassar hit back with a corner three before Mattox hit one from deep himself to reopen a Valletta advantage.

Athleta coach Christos Kousidis brought on youngster Andre Bozanic and he put up his first point, of five, almost immediately, when he scored one of two freethrows. The Maroons were in foul trouble and Valletta took advantage, but the former braved through all of it to finish the third quarter two points behind.

Moorer tied things up with a mid-range jumpshot when play restarted for the final rubber. Riddle gave Athleta the lead before Stelmach started Valletta’s late suffering. Valletta kept things as close as possible even with Athleta in the bonus for the final few minutes, but Riddle closed off the game with an acrobatic dunk after Stelmach fouled out.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 18, F. Mifsud Bonnici, L. Stefanovic 2, D. Moorer 30, P. Stelmach 22, N. Buhagiar, A. Bozanic 5.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS K. Charleston 17, N. Da Silva, D. Mattox 37, A. Attard, N. Cassar 11, J. Wait 6, M. Farrugia, J. Lisondra.

Referees B. Vassallo, N. Rincon, N. Azzopardi.

LUXOL 69

SIGMA DEPIRO 94

(19-18, 18-23, 18-27, 14-26)

Luxol parted ways with top-scoring centre Tariq Woody last week with club representatives confirming with the Times of Malta that the Violets had agreed to his release after numerous internal issues throughout his time at the club.

Woody’s point-tally could have been the final piece to overcome Depiro on Sunday as Luxol fell to a 25-point defeat in the day’s final game.

Cameron Cornelius was Depiro’s main driver in the opening minutes of the game, hitting the team’s first five points in between Luxol scores from Nathan Xuereb and Marko Matijevic. It was a fast start by Luxol who took over on offence, JP Schembri hitting twice from three before a Xuereb long-ranger. However, Depiro’s Kameron Rooks, already in double digits, kept it a one-point game at the first buzzer.

Luxol’s Nikola Jovanovic opened the second-quarter scoring from mid-range before Alfred Hollins jr hit from three for Depiro to tie things up. Nevertheless, another Xuereb threeball put the Violets back ahead.

Depiro changed leads midway through the rubber but Luxol remained as close as ever to finish the first half down 41-37.

After the break, Depiro stuck to their earlier momentum to increase their lead through Rooks and Cornelius but Luxol replied with a Schembri three-pointer and a Gael Hulsen layup to reach parity. Schembri fired from deep once more to give Luxol the lead as Depiro coach Ruben Baldacchino called a timeout.

The Mtarfa side levelled and to their advantage, a Hulsen foul gave them the bonus. This motivation led them to push up to a 13-point lead at the end of the third quarter after two consecutive threes from Miguel Brincat.

The final quarter would be make or break but when Depiro made it a 23-point game four minutes into play, it became a mighty hurdle for Luxol to overcome. They managed to get into the bonus with minutes to go, but as it became clear that a winner had been confirmed, both sides rotated their five for the game’s final moments.

LUXOL S. Pace 5, I. Azzopardi 5, N. Jovanovic 7, A. Azzopardi, JP Schembri 12, N. Xuereb 11, G. Hulsen 16, M. Matijevic 12, S. Cappello 1.

SIGMA DEPIRO L. Trapani, N. Bozovic 10, A. Aquilina 6, N. Grech, A. Hollins Jr 22, K. Rooks 31, M. brincat 9, M. Mallia 3, C. Cornelius 13, N. Bukva, M. Debattista.

Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, F. Ciurariu, N. Azzopardi.

STANDINGS

Mellieha Libertas 22*; Athleta 21; Starlites JSD 20; Hibernians 18; SiGMA Depiro 17; Luxol 16; Valletta Fighters 12.

*Mellieha did not feature last weekend.

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