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Mellieha run faces setback as Starlites edge past on League return

Starlites coach Paul Ferrante gives instructions to his team during a timeout against Mellieha on Sunday. Photo: Stephen Christopher Vella

Athleta keep hold of second place with Hibs victory

Starlites JSD took advantage of their game in hand to go closer to the top spot in the BOV men’s Division One regular season standings with a close victory against leaders Mellieha Libertas at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Athleta remained in second place with a convincing victory over Hibernians and Luxol took the spoils against Valletta Fighters.

STARLITES JSD 98

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 97

(34-24, 29-28, 19-25, 16-20)

Starlites coach Paul Ferrante went with a different set of starters on Sunday as Jacob Bourke-Doggett and Matthew Scerri both started on Sunday, in place of Felice Pace brothers Alec and Ian. The former was out of the game-day squad for the first time this season while the latter started the game off the bench.

It was a balanced opening between two of the top three sides in the league as Starlites were banking on momentum from their Knockout title victory to beat the leaders and protect their game in hand.

The margin was never more than three points until the last three minutes of the first quarter when Starlites’ top scorer on the day – with 23 points – Matt Attard started an 11-1 run to finish the rubber up by 10.

Mellieha opened the second quarter with a Vukasin Jandric three-pointer but Davonte Craven responded with a pair of made freethrows to maintain Starlites’ advantage. However, with six minutes to go in the first half, Kwame Thompson levelled terms with a step-back triple.

After four minutes and several time-outs, Starlites’ lead was back in double digits after a smooth drive from Ian Felice Pace and the title holders kept this up to end the first half up by 11 at 63-52.

After the break, Bourke-Boggett restarted the scoring with a pair of freethrows before game-scoring leader Tedrick Wolfe (33 points) hit back with a layup for Mellieha. It was a constant battle between the sides as whenever Mellieha got close, Starlites pushed the tempo to maintain their advantage. However, their lead took a hit late in the quarter and Mellieha were just five points away at the end of the third quarter.

David Bugeja made it a three-point game on the first play of the final rubber, before Alexander Peacock brought it down to just one point. Mellieha then grabbed their first lead change through Wolfe who hit twice in a row and completed an and-one to give his side a four-point cushion.

Starlites’ Attard recovered his side’s lead with around seven minutes to go but Peacock levelled from the line. This was going to be the story for the rest of the quarter as both sides responded to each other’s advances. With 2.45 to go, Miguel Fabri hit a contested shot from close range and that was to be the game’s winner as Starlites opened a three-point cushion and allowed Mellieha just one more basket to take a slender one-point victory.

STARLITES JSD C. Hinckson 19, M. Attard 23, I. Felice Pace 2, M. Fabri 7, M. Scerri 8, D. Craven 14, J. Bourke-Doggett 10, K. James 15.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 33, D. Bugeja 14, R. Bugeja 1, V. Jandric 16, I. Bonett 2, A. Peacock 13, K. Thompson 13, C. Mercurio 5.

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

ATHLETA 89

HIBERNIANS 75

(24-19, 12-19, 24-8, 29-29)

Athleta’s Malik Riddle opened the game with a shot from inside the pain. Teammate Piotr Stelmach hit the game’s first three-pointer before Riddle made it a 7-0 run. Hibernians’s Ivan Demcesen finally got his side’s first two baskets with close-range scores.

Naz Buhagiar hit from deep as Athleta overcame the 10-point mark but Hibs kept it a close game with a complete and-one play from Nick Brennen. Keith Charleston then grabbed his first basket in Hibs colours in between two Riddle scores.

Charleston put up 23 points in his first outing as a Paoilites player after making the switch from Valletta Fighters earlier this month to cover the loss of Mason Hix, who got suspended after a NADO test.

Athleta’s Riddle was proving to be the greatest thorn in Hibs’ side in the opening quarter, hitting again to make it a nine-point game with 1.27 to go till the first buzzer. However, Demcesen and Brennen brought it down to five.

Paul Attard continued Hibs’ positive run with a mid-range jumpshot to start the second quarter before Anton Axiaq made it a one-point game as Athleta coach Christos Kousidis called a time-out.

Riddle was again on the scoresheet to grab the Maroons’ first basket of the second quarter, but Brennen and Charleston were on high alert to give their side the first lead change of the encounter.

From then onwards, it was a constant switch from side to side in terms of edge, but Hibernians were the team in front at the halftime break at 38-36.

Luca Stefanovic gave Athleta their lead back with the first shot of the second half, hitting perfectly from beyond the three-point line. Riddle hit another three-ball to re-open a gap ahead of Hibs before Brennen drove up past Stelmach to reduce the margin back to two. But it was certainly Athleta’s opening as Buhagiar and Stefanovic combined for another five points.

With 3.43 to go in the third quarter, Athleta had their greatest lead of the game so far, ahead by 10 after another Buhagiar score, forcing Hibs mentor Mario Tabone to call for a time-out. Brennen hit back upon the restart but Athleta pushed their lead up to 14 by the end of the third quarter.

Demcesen opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a mid-range shot as Hibs were chasing a double-digit deficit with the final rubber to go. Despite their efforts, Athleta were in no mood to slow down. Stelmach hit yet another three-pointer, Riddle drove back up through contact, and Buhagiar hit a pair of freethrows to push their lead up to 17 with eight minutes to go.

Riddle made it a 20-point lead less than a minute later to put the game all nearing out of reach for Hibs. Nevertheless, the Paolites kept pushing, shadowing Athleta’s efforts as both sides finished the quarter with 29 points scored. However, this parity was not enough for Hibs to overcome their third-quarter troubles as Athleta took another important step towards the playoffs with a win at the final buzzer.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 40, F. Mifsud Bonnici, N. Buhagiar 13, L. Stefanovic 11, M. Gouder 6, E. Abela, P. Stelmach 16, A. Garzia, J. Cefai 3.

HIBERNIANS K. Charleston 23, P. Attard 2, L. Farrugia, A. Axiaq 5, M. Attard 4, I. Demcesen 13, N. Brennen 28.

Referees B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, N. Rincon.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS 71

LUXOL 85

(18-12, 10-23, 19-23, 24-27)

Davide Bellinzona hit from deep to open the scoring in Valletta’s first fixture since the departure of US import player Charleston. The Italian then scored again after a Neil Cassar Fastbreak before Luxol’s Nikola Jovanovic hit from three-point land to respond to the Citizens’ opening. Valletta held the edge in the first quarter and led by six at the buzzer.

Just like the first quarter, Valletta were the first to see the ball go through the hoop in the second rubber, this time through a pair of Ulhas Satyanarayan freethrows. Stefan Cappello hit back from under the basket to issue Luxol’s response.

The Violets may have not shown their best basketball in the first quarter, but they got things going and eventually took the lead with half of the second quarter to go with another Jovanovic triple.

Cappello kept Luxol ahead after Cassar had momentarily grabbed a lead change, stretching this advantage for coach Duncan Fenech’s side to seven by the end of the first half.

Marko Matijevic opened the second half two minutes in after a particularly slow restart to proceedings with Desean Mattox hitting from the line for Valletta. The Citizens took the court under coach Daniel Bugeja on the day as Harry Savaya served the first of a two-game suspension from their clash against Hibs in the Knockout.

Gael Hulsen made it a 10-point game for Luxol and this momentum kept them ahead as the margin floated around double-digits until the third buzzer as they led by 11 ahead of the final quarter.

Mattox beat the shot clock to fire in a three-ball at the start of the fourth quarter as Valletta were behind by eight but Luxol’s Matijevic drove in to secure an and-one play.

Luxol kept pushing and garnered their highest lead of the day with 19 points, one which Valletta could only reduce to 15 as the Violets took the win and climbed up to a point behind SiGMA Depiro in the standings as the two teams continue to contest Hibernians for the final spot in the postseason.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS D. Bellinzona 16, N. Da Silva, J. Wait 3, D. Mattox 22, A. Attard, M. Farrugia 2, U. Satyanarayan 17, N. Cassar 11.

LUXOL N. Jovanovic 17, A. Azzopardi 4, JP Schembri 3, N. Xuereb 23, G. Hulsen 13, P. Engelbert, M. Iloube, M. Matijevic 17, S. Cappello 8.

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

STANDINGS

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

*Depiro did not feature last weekend.

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