Saturday’s visitors to the Dragons Den were newly promoted to the top echelon of the National Basketball League following a hugely successful 2015/16 campaign in which they claimed the division two title. This time around, they have made a steady start to their first year in division one, having won two and lost three prior to the weekend.
The Dragons started the game with pace and fluidity, quickly opening up a lead on their visitors and finishing the opening quarter eleven points ahead (29-18).
But that was about as good as it got for the hosts, as gradually the Kestrels fought their way back into the game. As the buzzer sounded to call half-time, the Dragons’ advantage was down to just four points, at 51-47.
Whatever Bradford threw at Solent, the Kestrels were able to match and with only five minutes of the game remaining the difference between the two sides was still a significant ten points (85-95). It wasn’t much longer before the Bradford faithful were treated to yet another ton – only this time it wasn’t for their beloved Dragons and, as the game drew to a close, the visitors claimed a well-deserved victory, 96-108.
Rihards Sulcs put in a standout performance for the Dragons, taking a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds, whilst Ricky Fetske also contributed with 26 points of his own. However, it was Solent’s Mathis Marquis that put in the MVP performance, shooting an incredible 93.33%, whilst bagging 35 points and 12 rebounds.
Division one leaders, Team Northumbria rolled into the Dragons’ Den just one week after they claimed a league victory against Bradford, in a tight game at Newcastle’s Sports Central, a fixture which Mellor’s team felt they should have won. This time a place in the National Cup semi-finals was at stake, whilst Bradford were also keen to extract their early revenge.
It wasn’t to be, despite Bradford leading (16-14) at the end of the first quarter – a rather slow start to the game, compared to what Dragon’s fans have become accustomed to.
The North Easterners took control of proceedings in the second period, building up a ten-point lead to close the half out at 34-44.
Things didn’t improve after the break and, at one point, Northumbria had increased their advantage to twenty-two points. To their credit, Bradford never gave in. However as the game finished, they were still ten points adrift, at 82-92 and Team Northumbria claimed their place in the semi-final draw.
Marcus Gooding shot 22 points for the Dragons with Sulcs close behind on 21 points. Eisley Swaine also capped an impressive performance with 19 points, to close-out a week in which he was awarded the ABL player of the week award.
“It was a disappointing weekend,” stated coach Mellor. “We didn’t do enough in either game to put ourselves in a good position when it mattered. In both games we had some good quarters, but in neither did we play consistently well for long enough.”
The Dragons are at home again next Saturday (6:15pm), with another tough encounter – this time against third placed team Loughborough Students Riders. Like Team Solent, the Riders are in their first season in the top division. However, they boast a record of six wins from seven games, so far this season, with their only loss coming at current leaders Team Northumbria. The Dragons will need to be back at their very best if they are to get something from the game.
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY