Bradford Dragons made it five wins from their last six fixtures, as they beat Derby Trailblazers 96-81 in their final league fixture of the season, on Saturday.
Derby, who have finished in the top four in each of the last three seasons, have found the going tough this time around and arrived in the Dragons’ Den with a record of only six wins from their 22 league fixtures.
Bradford, meanwhile, had already secured their berth in the end of season playoff championship, but were playing for league position, in order to ensure the best possible fixture in the quarter finals.
The Dragons were first off the mark, racing into a 4-0 lead through baskets from Marcus Gooding (sponsored by Gooding Funeral Services) and Rihards Šulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography). However, Derby hit straight back and took a two-point lead of their own, 4-6.
Jermayne Laing shot two from the line and Gooding followed up with a three to restore the Dragons lead, which they held through the next couple of minutes.
Derby upped the anti and the efforts of Kadeem Thompson and Leighton Elliot-Sewell saw them overturn Bradford’s lead, to storm into a six-point advantage of their own. However, a strong offensive from Disraeli Lufadeju. Ricky Fetske (sponsored by ALW Guitars) and Gooding pulled Bradford back level.
At the start of the second, Fetske missed his jump shot, however he took his own rebound and, on his second attempt, drew a foul from the visiting captain, Oliver Stanley. Fetske made no mistake from the line.
The Dragons went on to build up a seven-point lead, 31-24 but, almost as quickly, Derby once again reduced the deficit to a single point. However, the visitors couldn’t overturn the lead completely and, with three minutes of the half remaining, young Eisley Swaine shot a two to restore the home side’s seven-point advantage, 42-35.
The Dragons still had more in the tank, and with only seconds remaining to the half-time buzzer, Oliver Hylands sank his jump shot to send the Dragons back to the locker rooms twelve points ahead, 53-41.
The Trailblazers tried hard to pull themselves back into contention, largely through Thompson, who had been a threat throughout. Four minutes in, they had reduced the deficit back to seven: however, that was as good as it got for them and at the end of the third period, the Dragons had all but completed their task, leading by sixteen (72-56).
With the game won, Chris Mellor sent youngster Jayden Marin on for the final couple of minutes, and he was rewarded with a point from the line, having been fouled by Wesselingh.
The Dragons finished the game out, winning by fifteen points (96-81) securing themselves sixth place in the league table in the process.
The game high score was shared by Bradford’s Gooding and Derby’s Thompson, both of whom scored 25 points. Fetske followed up for the Dragons, with 16 points: however, the official Taco Bell Player of the Game award went to Lufadeju, who scored 14 points off the bench, whilst also adding 9 rebounds and 8 assists into the mix.
Also worthy of a mention is Šulcs, who contributed 12 points and took 12 rebounds to record a personal double-double.
After the game, Bradford’s head coach, Mellor commented, “We didn’t play great defensively, but credit to Derby. They were missing a couple of key players but played hard and made things difficult at times.
“It’s another win though and rounds off a decent last few weeks for us.”
The Dragons also made a presentation to Jason Swaine, who announced his retirement from Basketball earlier in the season. Swaine, who joined the Dragons in the summer of 2014, has enjoyed a playing career of almost thirty years, in which he has won every possible trophy in the domestic game, as well as making multiple appearances for the national team. However, one of Jason’s most treasured moments in the sport, has been sharing the Dragons’ court with his son, Eisley – the only father and son combination to play for the same team at the same time in the history of the National Basketball League.