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Starlites win Division One finals opener with last-gasp comeback

Starlites forward Christian Hinckson (right) tries to fend off Mellieha's Kwame Thompson. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Mellieha fall in final 38 seconds of proceedings

STARLITES JSD 95 (1)

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 93 (0)

(25-31, 17-26, 33-19, 20-17)

Starlites JSD took Game One of this season’s BOV Division One playoff finals with the closest of comebacks on Sunday as Mellieħa Libertas conceded defeat after having led for 39 minutes of the 40 at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion.

It was a question of ‘so close yet so far’ for Mellieħa who looked tight on players with Isaac Bonett and Vukasin Jandric both injured. On the other hand, Starlites’ deep roster gave coach Paul Ferrante the liberty to rest key players during the encounter while the team’s bench players showed their strengths to lead the stats.

It was also an opportunity to reintroduce forward Kurt Xuereb after a six-month-long injury.
Starlites’ Matthew Scerri led the team’s points with 23 as Davonte Craven followed with 18 points. Christian Hinckson, who finished with 13 points, was the team’s double-double finisher after also grabbing 12 rebounds.

Starlites’s Kurt James (left) and Mellieha’s Alexander Peacock battle for possession. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

At the other end of the court, Tedrick Wolfe also finished with 23 points to lead his team’s scoring. Alexander Peacock got a double-double finish with 18 points and 14 rebounds as one of the game’s top performers.

Kwame Thompson started the game’s scoring with a layup after intercepting a pass inside the Mellieħa paint before going full speed ahead on a fastbreak to bag the first points. David Bugeja added another two points before Matt Attard fired in a trademark three-pointer for Starlites’ first basket.

An early battle between Starlites’ Kurt James and Peacock began to develop but it was Thompson’s speed that became the highlight of the first quarter as the Northerners opened a double-digit lead midway through the rubber with a Robert Bonnici three-ball.

Scores from Scerri and Hinckson eased Starlites’ task to head to the bench with a six-point deficit at the first buzzer.

Starlites captain Alec Felice Pace hit first in the second quarter but Ryan Carabott cancelled the points to maintain Mellieħa’s advantage.

Wolfe blocked efforts from Felice Pace and James to add to a fiery first half that lived up to its ‘finals’ tag. Amidst all of the contests at both ends of the court, Mellieħa remained the team on top at halftime, leading 57-46.

Peacock hit first after the second-half restart before Scerri made it a 10-point game with a triple. Defence was becoming an issue for Starlites as Mellieħa opened up space for easy baskets from offensive rebounds. To make matters worse, Mellieħa won the bonus after Ian Felice Pace was fouled out for a fifth infringement.

Mellieha’s Kwame Thompson (right) tries to push past Starlites’ Alec Felice Pace. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Despite the uphill struggle, Starlites brought the margin down to single digits with an and-one from Alec Felice Pace and another triple from Attard. The Maltese-Australian guard hit the mark again from mid-range before another three-pointer to make it just a two-point game with just seconds to go in the third quarter. Wolfe stopped the Starlites run but Scerri then hit three freethrows in the final 1.3 seconds to set up a climactic fourth quarter.

A Wolfe layup opened the final quarter but Kurt Xuereb scored the first basket of his return to issue Starlites’ reply.

Albeit this, Mellieħa surged ahead again to reopen a seven-point lead before a Craven layup kept them at bay. With 40 seconds to go, however, that Mellieħa lead was gone as Alec Felice Pace hit from deep to put Starlites up by one.

Peacock had the chance to put Mellieħa back on top with a pair of freethrows but missed both and they were made to rue this as on the next play, Carabott also got his marching orders and from the line, Craven made sure of the win before Game Two on Wednesday (tip-off: 20.45).

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 11, C. Hinckson 13, M. Attard 13, I. Felice Pace 5, K. James 10, M. Scerri 23, D. Craven 18, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 2.
MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS D. Bugeja 6, R. Bonnici 13, A. Peacock 18, K. Thompson 17, C. Mercurio 5, T. Wolfe 23, R. Carabott 11.
Referees B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, F. Ciurariu.

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