Bradford Dragons fought back from eight points down on Saturday evening, going into the final quarter, to lead against table topping Team Solent Kestrels (TSK), but just lost out at the final buzzer, with a narrow three-point defeat (81-84).
TSK are only in their second season in the top flight of the National Basketball League but have capitalised on a good first campaign to lead the division this time around with a record of 12 wins and just three losses, prior to this weekends fixtures. However, having won their previous two fixtures the Dragons were confident that they could upset the odds and take the victory in front of their home crowd.
Bradford kept it close for a while and half way through the opening quarter they were just two behind, at 12-14. However, the Kestrels then started to take control and at times they carved through the Dragons’ defence like a knife through butter. The lead increased to five points, then seven and with only a minute of the period remaining, their advantage was up to double figures (14-24). A three-point basket from Eisley Swaine made the score look more respectable at the first break (17-24).
However, Solent stepped up the pace once more, and when the half time buzzer sounded, they were back in control with an eight-point advantage, 40-48, and as Dragons team left the court their frustration was clear.
After the break, TSK hit a quick two, but the two sides traded baskets, like for like, for the majority of the third quarter and although the Kestrels increased their lead to twelve points, half way through the penultimate period, the quarter ended with the Dragons still in touch (62-70).
It was during the third quarter that the first of two baffling decisions from the referees took place. Eisley Swaine was bounced off court in possession of the ball. The officials gave possession to Bradford but failed to call a foul, their explanation being that it wasn’t deemed severe enough for the foul to be called. However, if it wasn’t a foul, possession should surely have been given to Solent, but as it was given to Bradford the foul should have been recorded. Although this decision had no real bearing on the outcome of the game, such things do nothing to enhance the image of the game.
A rejuvenated Bradford Dragons hit the court for the final quarter and within three minutes of the restart they had incredibly overturned TSK’s advantage, through a combination of tenacious defending and an aggressive offence, to lead for the first time since the opening period (71-70).
Solent responded with four points of their own, at which point Bradford coach, Chris Mellor, called a time-out. Immediately, from the restart, Ricky Fetske popped in a big three-pointer to tie the scores at 74 apiece.
Rihards Šulcs (Sponsored by Templewood Photography) then hit a couple of free throws to put Bradford two up, before TSK’s big American Hemon Senor II hit a couple of two-point baskets to restore the away advantage (76-78).
Up stepped Fetske with yet another three points, before a couple of free throws from Solent’s Joe Tagerelli put them one up. Eisley Swaine then sank his two point jump shot to swing the game back in the Dragon’s favour. Tagarelli, then tipped things back in TSK’s direction, with a two-point tip-in (81-82).
With eleven seconds remaining, a second controversial refereeing decision, incited the home crowd. TSK’s coach, Matt Guymon, called a time-out, however the officials ruled that he had already used up their allocation. The home fans were calling out for a Technical foul to be awarded in Bradford’s favour, which would normally be the case in such situations, but instead the men in charge chose to restart the game with Kestrels in possession.
Fetske topped the Dragons score charts with 22 points, adding an impressive haul of 18 rebounds to register another double-double, and earning him the official Taco Bell Player of the Game Award. Fellow American, Gooding added 20 points to the Dragons total whilst Šulcs registered a double-double of his own, with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Chris Mellor, as always, gave a frank analysis on his sides performance saying, “we played better in the second half defensively, but overall I thought the difference was the points they scored in transition off our turnovers. We missed some key lay-ups and in the end it came down to an offensive rebound they got and a shot that we missed.”
TSK travelled to Manchester Magic on Sunday afternoon where they recorded a second victory of the weekend and maintain their top spot in the table.
Manchester provide the opposition for Bradford’s next game, on Sunday 18th February, in the Dragons’ Den (Tip-off 4:15pm). Tickets for this game are available for purchase through the Dragons’ website.
On Sunday, the Dragons’ under 14 boys travelled to East Durham Lions, losing by 93 points to 60.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography.