Bradford Dragons made it two wins from two NBL Division One games on Saturday afternoon, defeating Oakland Wolves 89-85 on the road in Hertfordshire.
A game of two halves, Dragons led by double-digits for large spells but made hard work of it in the second half before eventually securing a nervy victory.
Making the long journey to face the Oakland Warriors, the Dragons were looking to compile more misery on the hosts after their 0-3 start to the season and also build on last weekend’s promising 81-67 victory on the road against Team Newcastle University.
Dragons captain Ricky Fetske notched the visitor’s first six points before five Dragons also got in on the action. Tyme Regent-Bascombe (sponsored by Five Wealth, Independent Wealth Management), Rihards Šulcs, Dave Walsh, and Andreas Lycoudis all scored before a Uche Umekwe layup handed the Dragons a 12-point lead with just over two-and-a-half minutes to play in the opening period.
Opposing on the defensive end, the visitors were equally threatening on the offensive end as they went up by 15 with a minute to play in the first quarter. Regent-Bascombe knocked down a three to extend the Dragons lead to 23-8, but the Wolves rallied with a 4-0 run to close the quarter.
After such a hot start, a cooling off period was inevitable for Dragons and the second quarter was a much tighter affair.
Trading buckets with the Wolves, Šulcs scored the Dragons first six-points of the second quarter as the hosts vied to break into the Dragons 12-point lead to no avail.
Seven straight points from Obi Egbunike did claw the hosts within five points as the game turned very scrappy with lots of foul calls.
Cashing in at the free-throw line, Dragons went 8-8 in the quarter, extending their lead back to nine points (41-32). Regent-Bascombe proceeded to score the final four points of the half to give Dragons a 10-point lead (45-35) heading into the break.
Coming-out-of-halftime, the game followed a similar pattern as the Dragons looked to consolidate their lead.
Promisingly, the visitors managed to extend their lead to a game-high 17-point lead (62-45) midway through the penultimate period.
With both teams getting to the free-throw line at will, on this occasion, Dragons took advantage. Four straight points at the line were reinforced by a three from sharpshooter Dave Walsh as the Dragons looked to be running away with the game.
After looking firmly in control, a first warning sign arrived for Dragons. After cutting the lead to seven, the Wolves began to get a firm foothold in the game as they forced five Dragon turnovers in a crucial four-minute stretch to end the third quarter.
Whilst the visitors endured the Wolves onslaught on this occasion, the worst was still to come. Dragons closed out the quarter with an Umekwe layup to restore a nine-point lead, but the hosts were beginning to work back into the game at an alarming rate.
Having weathered the Oakland Wolves surge in the third quarter, the same could not be said in the opening minutes of the final period. Two Walsh free-throws at the 9:18 mark of the quarter gave the Dragons a 73-63 lead, then came a disastrous stretch for the visitors.
A scoreless three-minute stretch of basketball coincided with the Dragons lead completely evaporating as the Wolves scored ten straight points. Wolves leading scorer Santiago was becoming increasingly involved as he scored or assisted on four of the five buckets in the run that tied the game up at 73.
With the Dragons firmly under the cosh, the visitors were dealt a colossal double blow, as Uche Umekwe fouled out and captain Ricky Fetske followed his teammate back on to the bench less than a minute after replacing the former Liverpool man.
But Coach Mellor’s team weren’t about to roll over and allow the Wolves to stroll to victory. Dragons fought fire with fire and rallied to withstand the barrage before climbing back into the lead.
A game that looked completely out of sight in the third quarter; was suddenly up for grabs and the Dragons grasped the game at the second opportunity.
In a tightly refereed affair, free-throw shooting was always going to be crucial, and with both teams struggling mightily at the charity stripe, the Dragons knocked down 9-14 free-throws in the final five minutes of a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
Dragons stalwart Rihards Šulcs knocked down the second of two free-throws to put the visitors up by five (86-81). With just under two minutes to play, the Dragons looked in control once again, but two successive scoreless possessions allowed the Wolves to cut the lead to 86-85 with 32 seconds left on the game clock.
In need of a hero; up-stepped Dave Walsh. The former Myerscough man knocked down a dagger three-pointer to give the Dragons an unassailable four-point lead.
In a topsy-turvy game that Dragons led by as many as 17 points, Coach Mellor’s team came away from Hertfordshire with maximum points after a gritty fourth quarter performance.
The Final Score, Oakland Wolves 85-89 Bradford Dragons. The Dragons improve to 2-0 in NBL Division One after a determined team performance that saw five players score in double-figures on the road.
Rihards Šulcs led the Dragons in scoring with 16 points adding 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Andreas Lycoudis also scored 16 points, and Ricky Fetske added 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Jordan Santiago and Kane Daley led the game in scoring with 18 apiece for the Oakland Wolves.
Box Score: https://www.fibalivestats.com/u/BBE/1774069/index.html
Next up for the Dragons is a trip to face the Nottingham Hoods in NBL Division One action on Saturday, December 12 with tip-off at 6pm.
Coach Chris Mellor alluded to the Dragons difficulties in seeing the game out, he said:
“We never really got into any rhythm, but credit to Oakland, they played hard, and we never could quite put the game out of reach.”
Touching on his team’s foul trouble in the final period, Coach Mellor continued:
“65 fouls in the game added to the entertainment along with 82 free throws. I’m just relieved we got the win and didn’t run out of players.”
Point guard Albert Margai was pleased with his team’s defensive start but admits the Dragons intensity dropped as the game went on, he said:
“We had a pretty good start defensively and we were really sticking to the game plan, taking away some of the stuff they wanted to do and making them uncomfortable.”
“But we couldn’t just replicate that in the second, third, and the fourth quarter. I think the same intensity, the same level of organisation, and communication that we demonstrated in the first quarter just disappeared the rest of the game.”
Margai was particularly delighted with the Dragons resolve in the face of adversity, he continued:
“All in all, a great win on the road. It’s always tough to win on the road in Division One and we’ve done that today. There’s a lot to learn from in practice, but it is massive starting the season off 2-0.”
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography