It was the fourth meeting between the teams this season, with them having met in both the National Trophy Pool stages and in the National Cup quarter finals. Team Northumbria had got the better of the Dragons in each of the previous meetings and the Bradford side were keen to set records straight.
Ricky Fetske won the jump ball, however his tip went straight to Northumbria’s Jack Preston who was quickly up the court. However, Fetske was quicker still and was on hand to block Preston’s shot, sending Bradford up to the other end. On Bradford’s first offensive play, Rihards Sulcs was fouled in the act of shooting and he made no mistake with the resulting free throws to give Bradford the first points of the game.
The two sides traded baskets throughout the opening period of the game, but when the visiting coach, Marc Steutel, called the first timeout of the fixture, with just under four minutes of the first quarter remaining, the Dragons were in possession of a five-point lead, 18-13.
The opening moments of the second quarter saw Bradford pulled up for a series of technical fouls, causing head coach, Chris Mellor, to call for time with only two minutes of the period played and his side behind by five points (23-28). But, Bradford still struggled to finish their offensive plays and soon the visitors’ lead was up to thirteen points (29-42).
But then, in a turn-around of events, the Dragons started to find the mark, whilst it was Northumbria’s turn to watch the ball bouncing back from the rim. As the hooter sounded at the end of the half, the Dragons had pulled the game back within reach, going back to the locker room trailing by a mere four points (40-44).
At the restart, the visitors again struggled to place their shots and it wasn’t long before the home side took the lead (46-44). A couple of minutes later, Northumbria had the lead back (46-48), but overall Bradford just edged a low scoring quarter although they still trailed by two points going into the final quarter (55-57).
The Dragons started that final period with fire and determination and Sulcs weaved his way through the visiting defence, with a reverse twist, to level the scores. It was game on and after three minutes of the quarter it was the home side that held the lead at 65-61. The Northumbrian heads seemed to have gone down as Steutel intervened with a call for time.
It was a timely intervention, which had the desired effect, as at the half way point of the quarter the visitors were once again ahead (66-67).
The two sides continued to trade baskets and neither side were able to pull away. With the scores at 71-73, Eisley Swaine sank a two-point shot to level the scores, only to be called for a charging foul and the points ruled out. As the ball went back up the other end, Northumbria were able to open their lead up to four, a valuable breathing space at such a late stage in the game.
However, possibly the deciding moment in the game, came with the scores at 73-75, when Fetske went to the line for two shots. Normally reliable from the line, he missed both attempts and with only 20 seconds left on the clock the Dragons were forced to make fouls in an attempt to regain possession. But, unlike Fetske, Freckleton made no mistake from the free throw line and when Bradford missed their shot at the other end, Malcolm Smith was allowed free passage to add a final two points for Northumbria (73-79).
Sulcs topped the Bradford scorers with 24 points, also clocking up an impressive 17 rebounds to record a double-double. Fetske added 22 points to the Dragons’ total, whilst Marcus Gooding, who had a quiet game, by his own high standards contributed 12 points.
For Team Northumbria, Smith matched Sulcs’ 24 points, followed closely by Freckleton with 19 points and Siman Stewart contributing 18.
Coach Mellor kept his post-game comments brief, saying only “We played hard and had our chances, but we missed some foul shots down the end and allowed too many points inside the key at crucial moments.”
The Dragons now face another tough fixture next weekend at Loughborough Student Riders, who currently sit two places above Bradford in the league table. The action then returns to the Dragons Den on 4th March (6:15pm) when Essex Leopards will be the visitors.
Dragons’ under 18s lost, 68-57, at Leeds Tigers on Saturday afternoon, whilst a double header at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College saw the under 16s beat York Eagles, 111-55 and the under 14’s beat Lancashire Spinners Bury, 79-73.
On Sunday, the under 16s travelled to East Durham Lions, where they recorded another emphatic victory, 26-113.
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY