Prior to the weekends fixtures, both teams had only lost one league game, however Northumbria sat two places above Bradford, courtesy of the fact that they had played one game more. And, whilst the Dragons boast the most potent offence in NBL division one, they also have one of the leakiest defences – high scoring games are therefore almost guaranteed.
Northumbria won the tip-off and opened the scoring within the first five seconds of the game, however it was a further minute and a half before the next points went on the board, with Rafi Saipe levelling the score for Bradford, who were donning their new kit for the first time this season. The score remained tight through the first five minutes of the game, however the hosts then took control of proceedings and closed the opening period with a ten-point lead (24-14).
The third quarter followed a similar pattern, with the Dragons gradually eating into the Northumbria lead and finally, with three minutes of the period remaining, they grabbed the lead (59-60). Any jubilation was short lived, as the home side stepped it up once again, finishing the penultimate period with a seven-point advantage, 71-64.
The game exploded in the final quarter, with the Dragons once again hunting down the deficit and with five minutes remaining they once again took the lead, 76-77. With the hosts also quickly racking up five team fouls it was looking good for another Bradford victory. But the Geordies refused to let go and the lead ebbed and flowed through the remainder of the game.
With four minutes remaining, Bradford’s power forward, Ricky Fetske, picked up his fifth foul, sending him to the bench, followed two minutes later by Rihards Sulcs. However, with only one minute forty-five seconds remaining the scores were once again tied at 85 apiece.
The Northumbria coach called a timeout with thirty-two seconds left and his team leading by a single point, 88-87, which was followed by a Bradford time-out, this time with only 18 seconds on the clock with the scores now, 90-87. Three seconds later, it was back to one (90-89) and the home sides turn to call for time. At the restart Levazeux quickly picked up his fifth personal foul, joining Fetske and Sulcs on the bench and the hosts made no mistake with the resulting free throws. As the clock still showed 14 seconds, Mellor called for one last intervention with his side again three down, at 92-89.
Young Eisley Swaine made his shot to pull the game back to a single point (92-91), but in a last-ditch attempt to gain back possession, Marcus Gooding fouled and again Northumbria sank both shots, to open their lead back up to three (94-93) with only five seconds remaining.
As the buzzer was about to sound, Eisley went for the three pointer, in an attempt to force overtime, but saw his shot bounce back off the rim, leaving the home side to celebrate the victory.
Gooding led the Bradford scorers, with 20 points, whilst Ricky Fetske racked up another double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Sulcs also contributed with 15 points.
“It was a tough, hard fought game,” commented Coach Mellor. “We were down by double digits early on, but slowly managed to find our rhythm and it was disappointing not to come away with the win. Ricky and Rihards both fouling out made things difficult, as well as some missed foul shots but I couldn’t fault our effort on the night.”
The Dragons have an early opportunity to settle the scores when Team Northumbria visit the Dragons’ Den next Sunday (tip off 4:15pm) in the National Cup quarter finals. This is preceded by a home league fixture for the Dragons, on Saturday evening (6:15pm) against newly promoted Team Solent Kestrels.
Dragons’ under 16s and under 14s were both in action, in a double header at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College on Saturday. The under 16s recorded an astonishing 134-32 victory against East Durham, whilst the under 14s also won, beating Manchester Giants Green, 71-59.
Photographs © TEMPLEWOOD PHOTOGRAPHY