The semifinals of the Louis Borg Cup, played over two legs in the space of 24 hours with the aggregate score determining the winner, were played in the past days with Hibernians and Gżira Athleta managing to book the two spots for the finals scheduled for May 19 and 22.
The four games were high scoring ones, as centuries were aplentiful and with quite lax defending at most times. However, this does not reduce the validity of the number of nice, athletic plays which were a joy to watch.
One of the series also led to a tied game, which is a unique possibility in basketball only in such two-game series, as a tied game is never possible in a normal league, play-off or one-way tie.
(30-19, 36-26, 36-20, 26-31)
Hibs: J. Hardy 20, P. Attard, D. Bugeja 15, K. Caruana 17, L. Farrugia 3, I. Bonett 2, N. Vasovic 27, A. Axiaq, M. Matijevic 3, M. Attard , C. Rowe 16, I. Demcesen 25.
Depiro: C. Johnson 40, Q. Cooper 25, J. Attard, D. Farrugia 3, N. Grech 4, K. Xuereb 10, M. Borg, M. Brincat 3, A, Chomo 11, A. Attard, T. Zammit
Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic.
(35-29, 20-24, 28-24, 24-30)
Depiro: C. Johnson 15, Q. Cooper 46, J. Attard, D. Farrugia 2, N. Grech 12, K. Xuereb 14, M. Borg, M. Brincat 3, A, Chomo 12, A. Attard 3, T. Zammit.
Hibs: J. Hardy 26, P. Attard, D. Bugeja 7, K. Caruana 15, L. Farrugia 2, I. Bonett, N. Vasovic 12, A. Axiaq 6, M. Matijevic, M. Attard, C. Rowe 23, I. Demcesen 16.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, L. Camilleri.
Both ties resulted in high scores and even a tied game in the second leg.
However, the main issue in this series was the fact that Hibernians opened a hefty advantage early in the first tie and then managed to control the second leg despite Depiro’s efforts.
With Chandler Rowe and Jay Hardy coming strong off the blocks, the Paolites raced to a 13-3 lead midway into the first quarter of the first game and when later Kieron Caruana and Nikola Vasovic started also finding their scoring touch, this lead extended to a 37-19 advantage with Depiro’s reply being inconsistent at this time.
Ivan Demcesen used his height advantage to the full and notched a double digit of points whilst at the other end, Cordarius Johnson, the game’s top scorer, was banging in a series of hoops in his quest to stir up his side.
However, Hibs did not stay put and six three balls in the second quarter moved them to a 66-45 half-time lead.
Hibs opened with a 7-0 streak after the interval, off David Bugeja and Vasovic buckets and later the same players continued on their positive offensive streak.
At the other end, apart from Johnson, Quin Cooper started finding his mark more regularly whilst Kurt Xuereb had three buckets but Hibs still managed to extend further their margin to 102-65 with one quarter to go after Demcesen had surpassed the century mark with a close-range put back.
Play remained open even in the last 10 minutes with Depiro managing to reduce slightly the deficit ahead of Game Two which was to be played in the next 24 hours.
The second tie was also one characterised with open offensive play and immediately set off with a bang with the first quarter ending 35-29 for Depiro.
The latter were visibly trying to make amends for the first game and after Nicholas Grech and Xuereb set them going, it was Cooper who moved his side to an early 20-13 lead after seven straight points.
Hibs, aware of their lead, did not allow their opponents to gain the upper edge and did their best to reply with Rowe and Vasovic mainly notching up the buckets.
Yet, it was the Mtarfa side that kept ahead as Adam Chomo and Johnson helped Cooper in netting regular hoops.
Hibs hit back and even overturned the score in the second quarter with treys from Caruana and transition buckets from Hardy.
A late six-point run from Depiro had them enjoying a slender 55-53 lead at half-time but it was still a mountain to climb aggregate-wise.
A 15-2 run, following a number of quick streaks in the frontcourt, helped Depiro to up their spirits as they moved to a 72-63 advantage but, after a time-out, Hibs came back on track as Hardy and Demcesen momentarily brought them closer to the opponents.
Treys from Cooper, Grech and Miguel Brincat re-established Depiro’s nine-point lead at 86-77 but again Hibs did not let go and, even if they lost Rowe after two major fouls, they remained at arms’ length with more treys from Caruana.
In the final stages of game two, Cooper continued his shooting streak but Hibs brought the game to a tie off late Hardy points.
Gżira Athleta 105
Mellieha Libertas 76
(22-18, 31-11, 30-25, 22-22)
Gżira Athleta: N. Buhagiar, C. Crossland 22, E. Sciberras, P. Shoults 6, L. Stefanovic 2, N. Xuereb 12, M. Gouder 17, I. Thiesen 30, E. Abela 1, R. Abela 8, S. Pace 7.
Mellieħa: A. Schembri 3, J. Lisandro, R. Loporto, J. Vaz 2, A. Perunicic 23, C. Briffa 5, N. Stojanovski 36, K. Skrabec 2, K. Sultana, R. Costa 5, M. Costa.
Referees: B. Vassallo, V. Nikolic, S. Tafilica.
Mellieħa Libertas 70
Gżira Athleta 100
(20-19, 16-24, 8-28, 26-29)
Mellieħa: A. Schembri 2, R. Loporto 3, D. Camilleri 9, J. Vaz 5, A. Perunicic 5, C. Briffa 4, N. Stojanovski 10, K. Skrabec 23, K. Sultana 4, R. Costa 5.
Gżira Athleta: N. Buhagiar 3, C. Crossland 23, E. Sciberras, P. Shoults 3, L. Stefanovic 10, N. Xuereb 30, M. Gouder 6, I. Thiesen 16, E. Abela 2, R. Abela 4, S. Pace 3.
Referees: G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic, S. Tafilica.
Gzira Athleta 205
Mellieħa Libertas 146
This semi-final series drew two teams from different categories, namely the reigning champions Gżira Athleta and the second-tier outfit Mellieħa Libertas.
Incidentally these two sides had already met in another competition this season when in the early season Independence Cup, Mellieħa had surprised many by advancing through the group stages only to be ousted by Gżira Athleta in the semi-finals also back in September.
This time around, the tie was on a two-game series and Gżira Athleta, despite Mellieha’s admirable early energy, gradually took control of the proceedings and then never looked in danger.
However Mellieħa surely need to be complimented for their performances in both games as they tried their outmost to battle their way against much stronger opponents and also having to do with different playing rules than their usual amateur league regulations in that they could only utilise a maximum of three foreigners, at any one time on the court in this tie, as opposed to unlimited use in the normal amateur league.
Treys from Peter Shoults and Nathan Xuereb opened the series and Gżira followed with a brace of Ian Theisen hoops.
However, Mellieha managed to hit back immediately as buckets shared by Aleksander Perunicic and Nenad Stojanovski kept them at close bay for merely a four-point margin, 22-18, after the first quarter.
This margin was still evident till midway in the second quarter at 31-25 but here Gzira upped their tempo while Mellieha lost a bit of their composure. In fact, Athleta closed the first half with a 22-4 run where Connell Crossland banged in a number of hoops and Matthew Gouder nailed two treys for a 53-29 half time lead.
Gżira now were firmly in command although Mellieha did return to some good offensive plays in the second half as they somewhat shared the score in these 20 minutes, 47-52, with their higher rated opponents.
The latter also gave some playing space to their bench players and Ryan Abela managed to notch four consecutive close-range hoops in the third quarter.
With Perunicic on mark, assisted by Anthony Schembri and Riccardo Costa, Mellieħa registered a good 10-3 run early in the last quarter.
But then Gzira re-extended their lead late in the game with a final 10-2 run with Gouder grabbing the century basket.
Twenty four hours later, Mellieha set off again on a good note as the starting five players contributed to a 16-6 early lead after seven minutes and it was only in the final minutes of the first quarter that Gżira found their offensive footing.
In fact, they gradually eroded Mellieħa’s lead and then took control of the game, once again, as in game one, in the latter part of the second quarter, with a 12-0 streak to open up a double-digit lead.
This margin increased significantly when play recommenced after the half-time interval with Gżira registering a hefty 13-point run, Crossland and Xuereb precise in their conclusions.
The impressive Klemen Skrabec broke Mellieħa’s point drought in the second half, but Gżira kept their momentum with another streak, this time of 12 points, including two treys from Xuereb on his way to being the game’s top point-getter.
The last quarter was more balanced as the two sides notched regular points, with the series already clearly over and done with.
The Northerners again managed to reach the 70-point mark with treys also from veteran David Camilleri whilst Gżira, very late in the game, reached the century mark for the second time in this series.
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