The visitors have had an up and down season and it has been suggested that you never know which Lituanica team is going to turn up. Their troubles culminated in them forfeiting a game against Manchester Magic earlier in the campaign, which resulted in Manchester being awarded the game, with a statutory 20-0 scoreline, whilst the London side were also docked an additional two points.
On Saturday, the East Europeans (their entire team consists of Lituanian basketballers) travelled north with only six players and they were nearly down to five within three seconds of the opening quarter when Deividas Lygutas took a blow to the head in a challenge with Bradford’s Semi Eboigbe, forcing the visiting player to take a seat on the bench.
The Dragons’ own East European, Latvian Rihards Sulcs opened the scoring, with a two-point jump shot, however down the other end Lituanica fought hard and quickly pulled the scores back level. A turnover by the visitors saw Rafi Saipe play a defence splitting bounce pass through to Jermayne Laing, who was through on basket, however the normally reliable guard lost control of the ball, seeing it bounce off his foot and out of play.
It didn’t get any better for the Dragons in the second quarter, as the visitors continued to cut through Bradford’s defence, like a knife through butter. Surprisingly, Lituanica’s lead was cut to just eight points, thanks to a late rally by the Dragons, but as the teams left the court for half time they were still firmly in control of the contest, at 44-52.
Into the third period, the Dragons started to show a bit more resolve, and the two teams matched one another basket for basket. With just under three minutes of the quarter remaining, London’s lead was down to just six points (58-64). However, when the buzzer signalled the end of the penultimate period the gap was once more back to eight points, at 63-71.
It was in that final quarter that the Dragons finally burst into life gradually eating into the deficit and tying the game at 79-79. But the London club were not about to give in and when Bradford’s coach, Chris Mellor called a timeout, with three minutes forty-one seconds of the game remaining the visitors were once more ahead (79-83).
A minute later it was Lituanica’s turn to call for time, with the game once again tied at 86 points apiece. However, they couldn’t stop the Bradford comeback and a couple more baskets from Sulcs saw the hosts steal the win (90-86).
Sulcs recorded a game high 30 points, whilst Saipe contributed 23 and Marcus Gooding added a further 20 points.
For the visitors, Mantas Guzys bagged 24 points, assisted by Julius Visockas and Paulius Adomaitis who netted 21 points each.
Chris Mellor made no attempt to cover up the Dragons’ frailties , commenting, “We were flat right from the tip and were fortunate to be only down eight at the half. We gradually improved our effort defensively and got the stops needed to pull out the wing.”
Having finished seventh in the league table, the Dragons now face second placed and reigning champions Manchester Magic in the play-off quarter finals. The game takes place at the Amaechi Basketball Centre in Manchester next Saturday (1st April) with tipoff at 6:30pm.
The Dragons have had little success against Manchester in the last few seasons and it will be a big ask for them to progress to the semi-finals. However, with Fetske in contention for a return to the squad the Dragons will hope to get the better of their red rose rivals this time around.
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY