Floriana are the new kings of Maltese basketball after dethroning Athleta following a thrilling fifth match from the play-offs final series played in front of a bumper crowd at the Ta’ Qali pavilion on Sunday. Floriana Basketball Club came to life some 35 years ago but this was the first major honour in the club’s history and one they will relish for many years to come. They invested heavily in their senior squad these past couple of years following various seasons in the lower ranks of the national league.

Athleta again proved to be for-midable league contenders. They started the season looking to make it three championships in a row. Their ambition was always on track and successes in the Super Cup, MBA Shield and KO continued to add to their prestige.

However, Joe Galea’s team finally found their match in a determined Floriana team who won games one and three with Athleta drawing level twice and fighting back admirably until the very end not to let the title escape from their grasp. On Sunday, Athleta were the fastest out of the blocks as they relied on the points of Marco Todorovic, David Bugeja and Omar Said to outpoint Floriana 18-13 in the opening session. Galea’s men held the initiative in the second quarter with Michael Naudi also in the picture for Athleta to open an eight-point lead at 29-21.

Floriana were not giving up though and Matt Glass and Ian Mercieca kept the team in conten-tion with crucial points before half-time. Athleta changed ends 36-29 in front.

Floriana looked a better lot after the interval and put Athleta under pressure. The Greens hit a 9-2 break to go 51-47 up. Athleta found a way back but Floriana still finished the session 54-53 ahead.

Now, all depended on which team would keep better hold of their nerves.

Floriana again looked the more composed team with two successive 8-0 breaks to open a 13-point lead at 70-57. The Floriana fans were now sensing victory but Athleta were not finished yet and silenced their opponents with a scorching 14-0 run to take a 71-70 lead.

Dirk Schembri potted a vital late basket for the Greens but Athleta failed in their attempt to regain the lead. Floriana closed the match with two successful Camilleri free-throws to secure the match, the series and the national title, sparking wild celebrations on the court and the packed stands.

Floriana: A. Baldacchino, B. Scott Camilleri 16, D. Camilleri 7, M. Glass 16, C. Sammut 20, I. Mercieca 6, C. Calleja, D. Schembri 7, M. Ciantar, S. Saakian 2.

Athleta: M. Naudi 8, S. Hagul, D. Bugeja 10, M. Todorovic 30, M. Giusti, E. Bezzina, O. Said 5, S. Pace, W. Spiteri, K. Baldacchino 4, S. Bischoff, S. Schembri 14.

Refs: G. Barbara, A. Carbonaro, B. Vassallo.

Article by timesofmalta.com
Photo by Matthew Mirabelli