Saturday’s visitors, Worthing Thunder, are one of the biggest names in British Basketball, having played for many years in the franchised British Basketball League, prior to entering the National Basketball League in 2013.
And despite Bradford opening the scoring, after Rihards Sulcs stole the ball in his own key and drove the full length of the court to lay up for two points, it was the visitors who had the early momentum, forcing Chris Mellor to call a timeout with only five minutes played and his team sitting at the wrong end of a 10-19 score line. It was an inspired intervention by the Dragons’ coach and ninety seconds later the scores were all square (19-19) and it was the visiting coach’s turn to call for time. As the opening period drew to a close, it was Worthing that again held the advantage, albeit by a single basket margin, at 27-29.
Whilst Worthing regrouped during the break, Bradford appeared to think that the game was already won as the West Sussex team took control of the third quarter. However, despite their dominance they only managed to reduce the deficit to fifteen points (79-64) as the buzzer sounded for the final scheduled interval.
That was enough to rouse the sleeping Dragons, who once again took charge of proceedings, notching up their fourth straight ton and concluding the contest as clear victors, 104-86.
Sulcs topped the scoring for Bradford with 26 points, followed by Ricky Fetske, who bagged a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. For Worthing, Lyonell Gaines finished as the games top scorer with an impressive contribution of 38 points.
The Dragons now have a league record of 3 and 1, placing them in fifth position during these early stages of the season.
On Sunday, the attention turned to the National Cup in which the Lancashire Spinners made their third visit of the Month to the Dragons’ Den. Bradford had won both of the previous encounters between the two teams, giving their Lancashire rivals no better motivation to extract their revenge. And it looked as though revenge was on the cards as a tired looking Bradford took to the court in the first quarter as the Spinners raced into the lead. The first period ended with the visitors ahead by seven points (22-29).
The second period started in a similar vein with the Spinners extending their lead to twelve, however the home side managed to pull things around and when half time came around the deficit was back to just two points (50-52).
Still, the Dragons couldn’t get a hold on proceedings and the Spinners again extended their lead in the third quarter (73-79) leaving Bradford with work to do in the final period.
With six minutes remaining, Bradford trailed by eight points (82-90) but following another timely intervention from coach Mellor the Dragons clawed their way back and a Marcus Gooding three-pointer levelled the score at 92-92, followed by another three from Jason Swaine to give Bradford the lead for the first time in the game. The advantage swung from side to side, but controversy struck in the dying seconds of the game. With the Dragons a single point ahead (102-101) and Spinners making a final assault on the Dragons Basket, Big Mike Bernard lost control of the ball pushing it out of play. However, to the total astonishment of the Bradford supporters, the referees gave the possession back to Lancashire.
In a desperate attempt to stop the visitors from scoring, Bradford fouled sending Bernard to the line for two shots with only 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Bernard sank both shots to give Lancashire what should have been the victory (102-103). However, in a rather bizarre twist of events one of the visiting bench prematurely stepped onto the court to celebrate the win, giving the referee no other option but to award a technical foul in Bradford’s favour. Jason Swaine stepped up to the line to level the score (103-103), sending the game into a five-minute period of overtime.
Spinners again took the lead in the opening minutes of overtime, however a two from Gooding eventually put the hosts ahead and as Lancashire desperately tried to regain possession foul trouble gave Bradford the opportunity to extend their advantage. In a game that neither team deserved to lose, Bradford finally claimed their place in the quarter finals, with a 114-109 victory.
It was a fantastic team effort in which Fetske took another double-double (25 points and 14 rebounds), assisted by 24 points from Gooding, 19 from Jason Swaine and a further 18 from Sulcs.
Commenting on the weekends action, Coach Mellor reflected, “We started badly against Worthing, but a great second quarter saw us go in at half time with a big lead and we managed to keep a double figure lead throughout the second half. We didn’t play well against Spinners and would have no complaints if we got beat, but we just managed to hand around under ten points most of the game. Obviously we were fortunate with what happened at the end of regulation time but we still had to make the foul shot and close it out in overtime.”
The Dragons are back in league action next weekend with a visit to Westminster Warriors on Saturday evening (tip off 6:30, Capital City Academy) before playing host to Reading Rockets, in the Dragons Den, the following day (4:15pm).
It was a mixed weekend for the Dragons’ junior teams, with the under 16’s travelling to Barnsley Leaders on Saturday to record a convincing away win (21-86). The following day the under 18’s lost 60-67 to York Eagles at the Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College, whilst the under 14’s visited Cheshire Pheonix Juniors II, returning with the win (42-76).
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY