Bradford Dragons succumbed to a second defeat in as many games with a 72-66 loss at the Leicester Warriors.
Matchday 2 of the NBL Division 1 pitted two teams looking to bounce back from close losses on the opening weekend of the season. The Warriors fell to a 91-90 defeat at the hands of the Derby Trailblazers last time out.
In the absence of captain Ricky Fetske, the Dragons made one change to the starting line-up from last weekend, with Rafi Saipe replacing the American in the starting five.
In a tightly contested affair that went wire to wire, the opening score of the game came from the Warriors Lamin Willian.
Looking for a faster start to proceedings than last week, the visitors went shot for shot with the Warriors in the first quarter.
Dragons newest addition Kehinde (Kenny) Ogunneye stepped onto the hardwood to make his debut, six minutes into the opening period.
Making his mark almost instantaneously, Kenny slammed home a dunk just seconds after entering the game, pulling the visitors within one.
Two threes from Saipe and Dave Walsh rounded out the quarter for the visitors. With the Dragons heading into the second quarter down 18-12.
The opening minutes of the second period followed a similar pattern to the first, as neither team was able to create significant separation from their counterparts.
The Warriors opened up a six-point lead but that was quickly smothered by a resolute Dragons run.
A ten-point run courtesy of a Walsh and Andreas Lycoudis tandem brought the visitors roaring back into the game. The run was rounded off when Rihards Šulcs fired the Dragons into the lead for the first time in the game, with a two-point jump shot.
Bradford were quickly met with a stern and emphatic response from their hosts. The Warriors undeterred, proceeded to go on a nine-point run, firing them back into the ascendency.
The Dragons came out firing on all cylinders in the opening minutes of the second half. Striking out a 13-5 run, knocking down seven of their first eight shots in a red-hot start to the third quarter.
Opening up the largest lead of the game, the Dragons suddenly found themselves eight points to the good as Walsh knocked down his fourth three (4-6) of the evening.
That lead was short-lived, however, as the visitors went scoreless for the final five minutes of the period. The Leicester Warriors duly capitalised, as the Dragons went cold, the hosts surged into a ten-point run of their own to end the quarter.
The low scoring affair continued to form, and as Allie Fullah got the visitors back on level terms 40 seconds into the fourth, the game was either teams for the taking.
The Warriors took on the mantel and despite the Dragons fighting to within one point of the hosts, Bradford never regained the lead in the final quarter.
Seven fourth-quarter points from the Warriors TJ Henderson proved critical, as the game’s leading scorer (23 points) propelled his team past a tenacious Dragons team.
Henderson knocked down a pair of free-throws to extend his team’s lead to seven points with 20 seconds to go, effectively, putting the finishing touches to the Warriors triumph.
Typical of the Dragons resilience, the team fought until the end but were ultimately on the wrong side of a tight 72-66 scoreline against the Leicester Warriors.
The top scorer for the Dragons was Walsh with 18 points off the bench. With Allie Fullah adding a notable game-high 13 rebounds.
Head Coach Chris Mellor said, “Our defence and rebounding was pretty good but offensively we were poor with our ball movement, pace, and execution, and that’s where some of our focus will definitely go moving forward.”
Looking ahead to Matchday 3, the Dragons play the first of three successive NBL Division 1 games at the Dragons Den next Saturday.
Next up for the Bradford Dragons is the home opener against the Essex and Herts Leopards. Tipping off on Saturday, October 12 at 6.15pm.
In other news, Dragons Juniors had a mixed bag of results in the opening round of Junior NBL action.
The U18s went down 51-91 at home to the York Eagles on Saturday, in the first game of a doubleheader at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise Centre. With the second game seeing the U16s overcome the Sheffield Swarm 67-55.
The following day, the U14s travelled to Tees Valley Mohawks, where they were on the wrong end of an 88-49 scoreline.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography