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Watch: ‘We stepped up to the occasion’ says Ferrante as Starlites win Knockout title

Starlites players celebrate with the BOV Men's Division One Knockout trophy. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Starlites’ James awarded final’s MVP



(29-13, 14-20, 17-24, 29-26)

Starlites JSD won this year’s BOV Men’s Division One Knockout after beating SiGMA Depiro 89-83 at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion on Sunday.

It was a tussle from start to finish and with this victory, Starlites have now won the mid-season competition a second-straight time after taking the honours for the first time in their history last season.

It was a final which saw both sides go ahead for periods of time but it was a show of experience from coach Paul Ferrante’s clan as they lifted their third trophy since play returned in October for the Super Cup.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Ferrante was quick to assure that the job was not done yet but lauded his team’s efforts on the day.

“Right now, my focus is the playoffs and the Under-23 final. We can relax after all of that,” Ferrante admitted.

“Today we started really strong, maybe a bit too much but then had a patch where we relaxed just as much. Depiro gave us a lot of trouble, especially their big man (Kameron Rooks) and (Cameron) Cornelius. We’re expecting that the playoffs will be just like this.”

Starlites coach Paul Ferrante speaks to Kurt Aquilina of the Times of Malta. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Asked about how the team’s experience contributes to their success, the Starlites coach said the advantage of it all is the fact that the team sticks together.

“The team gels together very well and when things go south, they get even more united – that’s a key thing,” he explained.

“In the final part of today’s game, (Depiro) began to put a lot of pressure on us and we ended up shifting our foreigner out of his regular position to guard them. Having said that, Matt Attard had impeccable shooting and we had Matthew Scerri again.

“It wasn’t our best game but when we needed to step up to the occasion, we did just that.”

As close a contest as it was, Depiro’s Cameron Cornelius led the game’s scoring after another 30+ point game (33), adding to his masterful semifinal performance against Mellieha Libertas a week before. Fellow Depiro import player Kameron Rooks finished with a 16 points-13 rebounds double-double. However, it was Starlites’ Kurt James who stole the show with 17 points, most of which came in crunch time as the American turned the game around in the second half to hand his side the victory and land the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the process.

In the post-game comments, James had nothing but appreciation towards his teammates, calling Sunday’s win a testament to all of the team’s hard work.

“It feels great! This is a testament to our club and supporters, and our guys who don’t necessarily get in the game, but they come to practice every single day,” James said.

“We’ve got guys that sacrifice a lot, so this is just a testament to coming to work every day, being humble and trusting the process. So I’m very thankful for my teammates always.”

Starlites forward Kurt James speaks to Kurt Aquilina of the Times of Malta. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Discussing Sunday’s performance, the forward who joined the Malta champions late last year, said Starlites never stop battling.

“Pressure either bursts pipes or creates diamonds, so it’s just about how you apply that pressure,” he said.

“With this club, we always have a positive outlook. We could be down 19 or 30, but we’re still going to keep applying pressure and in the game of basketball, and the game of life, that makes all the difference.

“Depiro is a really good team, they came out really prepared. They made some adjustments and some decent runs but ultimately, we were able to come together and get the win.”

Starlites sharpshooter Attard – the team’s top scorer on the day with 18 points – opened proceedings with a trademark three-pointer before Cornelius responded with a layup. Christian Hinckson made the most out of an Alec Felice Pace fastbreak to dunk the ball before a Kurt James three gave Starlites a four-point advantage.

Cornelius was in fine form to follow up from his semifinal showing but Starlites’ Attard kept racking up from deep before Matthew Scerri handed Starlites a double-digit lead from a corner three.

As the minutes of the first quarter trickled down, Depiro began to lose their edge on offence, misplacing passes that eventually led to a 16-point Starlites lead at the end of the rubber.

Starlites forward Kurt James attempts to get past Depiro’s Kameron Rooks. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Depiro coach Ruben Baldacchino roped in forward Alfred Hollins as the second quarter ensued. The American forward hit from close range, combining with Rooks as Depiro began to move closer, reducing the gap to 10 halfway through the rubber. Hinckosn momentarily stopped Depiro’s rush with a three but Hollins responded with an identical shot on the opposite side of the court.

It was a much better quarter for the Mtarfa side but they would need even more firepower to overcome the Hinckson, Davonte Craven tandem that was keeping Starlites’ double-digit lead intact.

After the break, the lead gradually became smaller but with five minutes gone in the third quarter, Starlites remained nine points ahead and a goaltending call saw them back into double digits after a Scerri fastbreak.

Foul trouble gave Depiro the bonus with three minutes to go in the quarter, and they exploited this to the fullest as they brought it down to a three-point game by the end of the rubber, issuing a warning ahead of the final quarter.

Depiro guard Cameron Cornelius (right) looks for a way through against Starlites. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Cornelius tied things up with the first score of the fourth before Nikola Bozovic hit next with another three-ball to hand his side a momentary lead before Craven rose to dunk his side back to the top.

It was the final rubber one would expect from a Knockout final and Cornelius was in position again to change the lead with yet another three-ball.

Bozovic hit once more to follow and the onus was now on them to make full use of their lead, and their newly acquired bonus, to keep the odds in their favour. Nevertheless, Starlites were not about to die down, retaking the lead with four minutes to go. This late switch was the winning move for Starlites as James put on a dominant crunch-time showing to give his side the victory.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 5, C. Hinckson 15, M. Attard 18, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Scerri 13, D. Craven 11, J. Bourke-Doggett 5, K. James 17.

SIGMA DEPIRO S. Galea 4, N. Bozovic 10, A. Aquilina 2, A. Hollins 12, K. Rooks 16, M. Brincat 3, M. Mallia 3, C. Cornelius 33, N. Bukva, M. Debattista.

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

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