The defeat is the first regular time loss in five league games for Coach Mellor’s team. The visitors matched their 7-3 counterparts for long spells but were ultimately edged in the final seconds of Sunday evenings clash.
The Rockets came into the game look for answers on the back of a season-high 102-77 defeat against the Dragons next opponent, the Derby Trailblazers.
A staple of the recent upsurge in form, the first quarter produced yet another electric start for the Dragons.
Asher Ndah opened the games scoring with a three for the hosts. However, the opening quarter was all about Dave Walsh as he scored 13 of the Dragons 27 points.
Down 5-3, the visitors scored eight straight points to take their first lead of the game. A lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the half.
The Dragons saw out the final two minutes of the quarter with a 9-5 run that pushed the lead to as many as 10 points (27-17). Walsh knocked down his third three of the game and Rihards Šulcs also added two layups.
The Dragons scored the first seven points of the second quarter as the lead ballooned to a game-high 14 points.
After a Ricky Fetske layup restored the Bradford lead to 14, the visitors went three-minutes without a bucket.
The Rockets halved the deficit to 36-29 during that period, before Walsh knocked down yet another deep three.
As the Dragons offensive struggles continued, the hosts went on another 7-0 run that brought them within one possession.
Fortunately, up stepped Walsh yet again to halt the onslaught. Hitting his fifth three of the game to take his first half total up to 22 points.
Kenny Ogunneye added four points as the Rockets ended the half on a 9-4 spree. The Dragons hung to their narrow lead, heading into the locker room up 46-45.
The scoring slowed down for both teams in the second half, but it was the hosts who came out of the locker room the quickest, scoring the opening four points of the third quarter.
As a result, the Rockets were back in the ascendancy for the first time since the opening minutes of the game, but it was short-lived. Albert Margai and Jermayne Laing converted layups, re-establishing the Dragons narrow one-point lead.
The Dragons were continuing to struggle on the offensive end, and the Rockets made sure to take full benefit. Going on a 13-2 run that presented the hosts with their largest lead of the game at 61-52.
Not ready to let the Rockets take full control of the game, the visitors fought back. Dragons two longest-serving players, Šulcs and Fetske, combined for seven points, cutting the hosts lead to 63-61 after the penultimate quarter of action.
The final quarter proved to be a much tighter affair, as both teams went bucket for bucket in the fourth.
Tied up at 70 with four minutes to play, the game was anyones for the taking. First, the Rockets went on a 6-0 run, but the Bradford response was to score five straight points that brought the visitors back within one point.
Down 76-75, with just over a minute to play, the Dragons turned the ball over on the next two offensive possessions. Rockets’ talisman Nick Richards then proceeded to ice the game with two clutch free throws, as Bradford was left no choice but to intentionally foul with the game clock at 4 seconds.
The Dragons got the ball back but had to throw up a prayer of a three as the game clock expired, a shot which came up short. The final score, Reading Rockets 78-75 Bradford Dragons.
27 turnovers in the game for the Dragons as the Rockets duly took advantage, cashing in a 25-17 edge on points from turnovers.
Coach Mellor stated post-game, “We did a lot right in the game, in terms of our effort defensively and rebounding the ball. It is very disappointing to fall short at the end.”
Dave Walsh led all scorers with 22 points, hitting 5-12 from three. Ricky Fetske notched his sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Next up for the Dragons is the final NBL Division One game of 2019 at the Derby Trailblazers on Saturday, December 14 at 7.15pm.
By Tom Lamming (Student Press Officer)
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography