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Depiro power past Athleta in search of postseason challenge

Depiro guard Andrew Aquilina (right) drives past Athleta's Malik Riddle. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Starlites up in second place after Valletta victory

SiGMA Depiro boosted their positive run of late with a fourth win in five games, this time a commanding victory against Athleta, as they fight for the final playoff spot. 

Meanwhile, direct competitors for fourth place, Hibernians, made life tough with a win against league leaders Mellieha Libertas as Starlites JSD leapfrogged over Athleta into second place with a cruising victory against Valletta Fighters.

SIGMA DEPIRO 80

ATHLETA 60

(20-17, 20-13, 19-14, 19-16)

Depiro secured an important victory in their fight for the playoffs on Sunday with a strong showing against Athleta.

With Ruben Baldacchino’s clan up to full speed after an inconsistent start, the Mtarfa side made the most out of absences from Athleta’s Daujan Moorer and Luca Stefanovic as the Gzira side relied on their top scorer Malik Riddle for most of the points.

In fact, the American put up a 32 points-12 rebounds double-double on the day to lead the game’s scoring. At the other end, Depiro’s Kameron Rooks was the only other double-double finisher with 29 and 21 rebounds. Rooks teammate Cameron Cornelius followed with 19 points. For Athleta, such absences allowed young player Andrei Bozanic to show his talents, finishing the game tied on 10 points with Piotr Stelmach with the pair hitting two and three triples respectively throughout the encounter.

Athleta guard Juan Cefai opened the day’s scoring with a swift layup before Kameron Rooks replied for Depiro with a close-range effort.

Athleta’s Andrei Bozanic (right) tries to get past Depiro’s Sean Galea. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Depiro took their first lead with an Andrew Aquilina three-pointer but the Maroons put up a response immediately to keep the game in the balance and this became the story of the first half as the first buzzer saw the two teams separated by three points with Depiro in the lead.

Rooks hit first as the game restarted for the second quarter, bagging full points from an and-one play. Riddle replied with a pair of made shots from the line as another similar set of minutes ensued. With Depiro the stronger-looking side on the court, they finished 42-30 ahead by halftime. 

Nikola Bozovic opened the second half with a three-ball before Miguel Mallia made one of two freethrows in his first appearance of the game to extend Depiro’s lead to 16. At the other end, Rooks denied Theodoros Chatzimoysis twice to keep Athleta scoreless early in the third. 

Cornelius made it a 21-point game three minutes in as Athleta struggled to counter Depiro’s offence, conceding enough fouls to give their opponents the bonus.

It was a quarter dominated by blocks with Rooks and Galea stopping shots at one end of the court, and Riddle doing the same at the opposite end. Nevertheless, a pair of Bozanic triples brought Athleta back down to within 17 ahead of the final rubber.

Christos Kousidis’ Athleta needed an energetic start to the fourth quarter and they got one as Riddle powered through to bring the deficit down to 10 with six minutes to go. Depiro restarted their fire, however, forcing an Athleta timeout two minutes later.

With the final minute to go in the game, both coaches rotated their five on court as the affair looked a done deal, with Depiro taking a crucial victory at the final buzzer.

SIGMA DEPIRO S. Galea 6, A. Aquilina 3, K. Rooks 29, C. Cornelius 19, N. Bukva 4, L. Trapani, N. Bozovic 9, A. Micallef, A. Hollins 2, M. Brincat 4, M. Mallia 4, M. Debattista.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 32, M. Gouder 1, P. Stelmach 10, A. Bozanic 10, J. Cefai, F. Mifsud Bonnici 2, E. Abela, T. Chatzimoysis 3, A. Garzia.

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

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 77

HIBERNIANS 80

(21-20, 22-20, 21-22, 13-18)

In the day’s second game, Hibernians shocked league leaders Mellieha Libertas to take a close victory and aid their chances of a spot in the postseason.

With the likes of Mason Hix and Nick Brennen out of the squad after NADO charges, one would have expected the Paolites to be a deflated bunch late on in the regular season, however, they were the complete opposite and it seems the inclusion of former Valletta player Keith Charleston as the duo’s replacement could be a beneficial push.

Playing every minute of the game on Sunday, Charleston led the team after scoring 27 points, going six of 10 from three-point range, and grabbing 13 boards. Ivan Demcesen was once again a powerhouse for Hibs, achieving 18 points with a 100 per cent shooting percentage from the field. Alexander Peacock was Mellieha’s top scorer on the day with 24 points, followed by Tedrick Wolfe who put up 17.

Corrado Mercurio wasted no time in hitting from three-point range to kickstart the game. Hibs’ Demcesen responded with a close-range effort. 

Peacock hit next with seven straight points as the Paolites struggled with finding the right passes, conceding multiple interceptions on their plays. This troubled start forced the first timeout for coach Mario Tabone with 6.38 to go in the opening rubber. 

Mellieha opened a double-digit lead before Charleston stopped a 10-0 run. This prompted the Paolites to push further, benefitting from the bonus to eventually tie the game. Despite this, a Robert Bonnici triple gave Mellieha a three-point lead before Matthew Attard hit two freethrows after a late foul to bring it back down to one at the first buzzer.

Hibs affected the game’s first lead change in the second quarter with a Demcesen three-pointer, a lead that lasted until the next play as Tedrick Wolfe hit twice from the charity stripe. However, the Paolites were back on top soon after and opened their first gap on top through a Paul Attard three-ball. 

Mellieha’s David Bugeja countered with a score from deep himself and Kwame Thompson levelled terms with 2.52 to go. 

This tit-for-tat continued with Mellieha finishing the first half up 43-40.

Peacock opened the second half immediately with a layup for Mellieha but Charleston responded with a pair of three-pointers at the other end to make it a one-point game. 

The Northerners secured the bonus with half the quarter to go and led by two ahead of the final quarter but this was not for lack of trying from Hibs’ new boy Charleston and Luke Farrugia, who were consistent from three-point range to keep their side at arm’s reach.

Charleston was again accurate from deep to start the final quarter’s scoring and retake the lead for Hibs. Attar added two another long-range score before Mellieha coach Ian Terribile called time-out. Good Hibernians defence made it a tough run for Mellieha while Anton Axiaq made it a double-digit lead for the Paolites after a strong drive through contact.

Libertas managed to climb back up to within a point in the final two minutes of play but were hit with a setback after Wolfe’s shift-ending fifth foul that also gave Hibs the bonus. The Paolites opted to hold onto their lead and take the win at the final buzzer.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 17, D. Bugeja 9, I. Bonett 4, A. Peacock 24, C. Mercurio 6, R. Bonnici 8, R. Carabott, K. Thompson 9.

HIBERNIANS K. Charleston 27, P. Attard 5, L. Farrugia 8, M. Attard 11, I. Demcesen 18, B. Zammit, A. Axiaq 11, S. Simic.

Referees B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosaviljevic.

STARLITES JSD 117

VALLETTA FIGHTERS 76

(32-26, 28-17, 29-16, 28-17)

Starlites made the most out of Athleta and Mellieha’s defeats to cruise past Valletta in the day’s final game and approach the top spot. 

It was a dominant showing for Starlites forward Davonte Craven who led the game with 38 points on the day. Spectators got to watch a stunning battle with Valletta’s Neil Cassar who led his team’s scoring with a season-high of 31 points. 

Craven started the scoring with a swish from three-point range but Valletta’s Cassar hit from the corner before intercepting a pass and dunking the ball home on the next play for the game’s first lead change. 

Cassar continued to push Valletta’s lead midway through the first quarter with effective scoring, the first player on the court to get into double figures. However, Starlites exploited the Citizens’ slow transition into defence and regained the lead, one held to just six at the first buzzer after a 22-point showing from Valletta forward Cassar.

Jhun Jhun Lisondra opened the second quarter scoring with second-chance points before Craven slammed home Starlites’ response. 

Similar to the opening rubber, Valletta’s defence became fully concentrated on the paint and Starlites coach Paul Ferrante brought on sharpshooter Matt Attard, who eventually finished with 20 points. The latter was quick to put up eight points in five minutes as the title holders elevated their lead to 17 for a 60-43 halftime lead.

Craven and Matthew Scerri, who also went back home with 20 points in the bag, combined for six points to kickstart the second half. Kurt James added a pair of freethrows and Craven hit from three in an 11-0 run before Ulhas Satyaranyan broke through for Valletta’s first third-quarter points. 

Starlites’ Craven, up to 33 points halfway through the third, was at the top of his game on Sunday, making up for Christian Hinckson’s absence as the forward was rested. 

At the other end, lack of depth on the Valletta bench gave Daniel Bugeja – leading the team in place of headcoach Harry Savaya who was away after his father had passed away earlier in the day – fewer options. This issue was reflected on the court as the Citizens finished the third quarter down by 30 while Starlites looked fresh with close to an entirely different five for the final quarter.

As the fourth quarter began, Lisondra fired in first but Scerri cancelled out the effort to restart Starlites’ dominance. And it was Starlites player who put his side past the 100-point mark midway through the quarter before Ferrante brought on a younger crop of players to finish off the game with a cruising victory in sight.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 7, I. Felice Pace, M. Scerri 20, D. Craven 38, K. James 19, M. Attard 20, S. Aquilina 5, M. Fabri 4, K. Fabri, L. Farrugia, L. Riolo 2, N. Sultana 2.

VALLETTA FIGHTERS N. Da Silva 2, M. Farrugia 2, J. Lisondra 12, U. Sayanarayan 19, N. Cassar 31, S. Saakian 4, R. Curmi 6.

Referees B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, G. Russo.

STANDINGS

Mellieha Libertas 28; Starlites JSD 27; Athleta 26; Hibernians 23; SiGMA Depiro 22; Luxol 20*; Valletta Fighters 16.

*Luxol did not feature last weekend.

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