Hibernians and Gżira Athleta will contest the BOV Men’s League play-off final series for a second successive season after they had the better of Floriana MCP Car Parks and Starlites GIG respectively.

Starlites player Robert Bonnici passes the ball past Vince Pace, of Gżira Athleta. Photo: Wally GaleaStarlites player Robert Bonnici passes the ball past Vince Pace, of Gżira Athleta. Photo: Wally Galea

Game 1

Hibernians 86
Floriana 54

(18-15, 20-15, 20-12, 28-12)

The first game had a very balanced start with Floriana keeping well in touch with their opponents till the end of the first half.

Hibs then had a strong start to the second half and a 13-2 stretch put them well in the driving seat with a hefty double digit lead.

Two Chad Patus treys set Hibs’ offensive machine going in the early minutes but Floriana’s American centre Ian Theisen kept the greens close by with four close range hoops.

At the start of the second quarter an Alvaro Lizaur three-ball and two Ivan Demcesen baskets from under the rim had Hibs going 28-19 ahead.

Late quarter threes from Kevin Liivamagi, Kurt Xuereb and Thiesen reduced Floriana’s half-time deficit to eight points, 30-38.

After the interval Hibs registered their pivotal 13-2 run, with Luca Tardito doing most of the damage assisted by Roderick Vella and Anton Axiaq.

Although Floriana, who could not utilise the injured David Bugeja for this game, did react with nine consecutive points including treys from Gael Hulsen and Kieron Caruana, Hibs now had the edge and confirmed the win when they notched a game high 15-0 run, in the fourth quarter, to definitely close the first tie.

Hibernians: R. Vella 6, P. Attard, K. Sultana, L. Farrugia 5, M. Formosa, M. Attard, L. Tardito 17, A. Axiaq 11, M. Matijevic, A. Lizaur 12, I. Demcesen 19, C. Cuschieri Patus 16.

Floriana: S. Pace 3, D. Camilleri, S. Borg, K. Caruana 3, K. Liivamagi 5, I. Arias 7, Ian Thiesen 15, K. Xuereb 11, G. Hulsen 10, D. Agius.

Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, K. Dworniczak, M. Hraisha

Game 2

Floriana 80
Hibernians 86

(22-20, 30-25, 12-10, 16-31)

An 11-4 stretch by Hibs in the last three minutes was the turning point in the second game of the series and which paved the way for the Paolites to move into the 2019 BOV Play-off Finals.

Floriana played very well for much of the game and put Hibs under great pressure.

The Greens, who also had Bugeja back on court after missing the first game, led for practically all the match until the last three minutes, having also a maximum 59-49 lead, midway in the third quarter.

Kristin Baldacchino’s side had a sprightly start and quickly went 9-2 ahead, led by Hulsen’s tenacity as well as hoops from Liivamagi and Xuereb.

Although Lizaur gave a very brief lead to Hibs off his second trey, the Greens quickly re-established the lead as Theisen potted all of his side’s next 13 points.

Points from Ignacio Arias, coming off the bench and playing probably his best seasonal game, helped Floriana to maintain the upper edge in the second quarter and further late points from Bugeja had them 52-45 ahead at the half way mark.

Points were not a plentiful in the third quarter with Floriana momentarily opening a double-digit lead at 59-49 and later 62-52.

Hibs tried to increase the tempo at the start of the fourth quarter with treys from Roderick Vella and Lizaur but points off penetrations by Arias and a Caruana trey kept Floriana holding to an eight-point margin, 71-63.

Here, Lizaur notched five consecutive points and although Xuereb had a three-pointer, at the opposite end, Luke Farrugia and again Lizaur did likewise for Hibs to give the latter a 76-75 lead with three minutes to go.

Theisen banged in two shots from the charity line to pip Floriana once again in front, albeit for the last time as Hibs embarked on a final game winning 11-4 run with Floriana not managing to maintain the earlier shooting prowess.

Floriana: S. Pace, D. Bugeja 13, D. Camilleri, S. Borg, K. Caruana 6, K. Liivamagi 2, I. Arias 18, Ian Thiesen 25, K. Xuereb 7, G. Hulsen 6, D. Agius.

Hibs: R. Vella 18, P. Attard,  K. Sultana, L. Farrugia 9, M. Formosa, M. Attard, L. Tardito 6, A. Axiaq 4, M. Matijevic 4, A. Lizaur 30, I. Demcesen 8, C. Cuschieri Patus 7.  

Referees: B. Vassallo, T. Mantere, C. Xuereb

Game 1

Starlites GIG 71
Gżira Athleta 82

(18-17, 19-11, 14-24, 20-30)

The first quarter was a tit-for-tat affair as both sides could not open a hefty early lead respectively and only a single point separated them after ten minutes, 18-17 in Starlites GIG’s favour as they also had treys from Jordan Stotts and Alec Felice Pace.

The first significant break arrived midway in the second quarter as Starlites registered a nine- point stretch with William Darley opening and closing this run amidst further Stotts baskets for a 31-23 score.

Although Gżira Athleta ended their short point drought through Julio Guity, it was still Starlites who went in for the half-time interval leading 37-28.

Nick Formosa made it a momentary double-digit lead with the first bucket in the second half but Gżira Athleta came back firmly in the game by midway in the third quarter following an 11-2 run started with the first of Matthew Gouder’s points coming off the bench and hoops from Connell Crossland and a Nathan Xuereb trey for 39-41.

Cameron Ward and Darley shared six points to give Starlites a boost.

Gżira Athleta kept with their rhythm and with Vincent Pace leading the team, as well as further Gouder and Xuereb points, they closed the third quarter with a one point lead, 52-51.

The game was at par, 59-a-piece, six minutes from the final buzzer following a Ward long distance shot.

Yet in the following two minutes Gżira notched a 9-2 stretch and when Starlites managed a Stotts and-one play, Athleta placed further pressure on their rivals with a very important eight-point run to find themselves 76-64 ahead with just under two minutes to the end of the game.

Starlites did push for a comeback but time was in Gżira’s favour as Pace kept his cool and converted the final free throws to ascertain his side’s victory.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 13, N. Formosa 4, R. Bonnici, I. Felice Pace, C. Ward 13, M. Falzon, M. Scerri, R. Carabott, W. Darley 14, J. Stotts 27.

Gżira: N. Vasovic 4, C. Crossland 21, P. Shoults 2, L. Stefanovic, A. Perunicic, N. Xuereb 8, M. Gouder 11, V. Pace 23, J. Guity 13.

Referees: B. Vassallo, T. Mantere, Z. Dobrosavljevic 

Game 2

Gżira Athleta 88
Starlites GIG 78

(17-18, 19-19, 20-23, 32-18)

The second game had a cautious start at both ends with both sets of players feeling maybe the importance of the game and points took some time to be registered with consistency.

Five minutes into the game, Starlites were leading 8-2 with Stotts grabbing all of their points. It was then Ward who notched the side’s next five points although Gżira Athleta were now running in their offensive machine with a Pace trey and a respective hoop from Guity and Crossland.

The end of the first quarter ended the same as in game one with Starlites leading 18-17.

The same margin was present at the half way mark as both teams shared 38 points in the second quarter.

Points from Pace, Crossland and Gouder gave Gżira the first, brief, lead only for Starlites to quickly respond through Darley and Stotts.

A trey by Pace opened a 43-39 early third quarter advantage for Gżira. Here they lost Guity on five personal fouls with Starlites then grabbing a quick 6-0 run.

Gżira did manage to reply momentarily at came again at par, 53-53, only for Starlites to hit back with seven consecutive points which many thought would be the turning point in the game.

Yet this was not to be as the Maroons hit back strongly early in the last quarter to regain a small lead and, with Starlites then losing Ward on fouls, then extended it to 74-67 with Pace and Crossland notching a number of hoops.

Two Felice Pace free throws, off a Crossland unsportsmanlike foul, made it a three-point game, 71-74, but it was again Gżira who showed the superior coolness to notch a 6-0 run.

Darley, with two treys, tried to revive Starlites’ comeback hopes for 78-83 but it was, similar to game one, Pace once again who, after being fouled to stop the clock, coolly banged in the last free throws to make it a series win for his side.

Gżira: N. Vasovic 2, C. Crossland 25, P. Shoults, L. Stefanovic, A. Perunicic 2, N. Xuereb 12, M. Gouder 5, V. Pace 37, J. Guity 5.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 7, N. Formosa 10, R. Bonnici 2, I. Felice Pace, C. Ward 8, M. Falzon, M. Scerri, R. Carabott, W. Darley 21, J. Stotts 30.

Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic, D. Torok.