Bradford Dragons clinched a pivotal 80-79 home victory on Saturday afternoon against the Loughborough Riders.
Dragons shut down a second-half comeback attempt to claim maximum points, ending a three-game winless run in the process.
The Dragons improve to 5-3 in NBL Division One play after a hard-fought win courtesy of fourth quarter heroics from Andreas Lycoudis.
Ricky Fetske opened the games scoring with a layup for the first of three scores in the quarter.
The opening quarter was a low-scoring period, with neither team able to create meaningful separation.
Riders led by as many as 5, but Dragons went blow for blow, with Fetske and Great Osobor combining to score 15 of the hosts’ 17 first quarter points.
After the opening ten minutes of action, the game was all tied up at 17.
In a slow offensive start to the game, neither team looked primed to break out into a lead, but that all soon changed.
A dominant second quarter from Dragons blew the game wide open. The hosts’ started the second period with a 10-2 run as Fetske, Uche Umekwe, Osobor, and Billy Cousins all-scored for Dragons.
The visitors called a timeout to steady the ship and got the desired outcome, with Joe Bielak cutting the deficit to 27-21.
However, the Dragons continued their dominant start to the quarter, with an offensive barrage over the next four minutes of play.
A 15-3 run from Coach Mellor’s team saw the lead balloon to 42-24. Osobor and Fetske continued to feast on the Riders defense, as young debutant Elijah Walsh introduced himself to the Dragons faithful with a smooth looking step-back three in the run.
Dragons led 45-30 heading into the interval after one of their most complete quarters of the season.
A promising start to the penultimate quarter for Dragons could have gone a long way to seeing out the game, but it was never going to be that straightforward.
After trading buckets to open the quarter, the visitors fired off a stunning 15-2 run to pull within four (52-48).
Kyle Jimenez and Harrison Gamble proved to be thorns in the Dragons side once again, scoring 11 of the 15 points in the run.
Holding on to the lead for the remainder of the third quarter, Dragons withstood the visitors rolling offense to lead 60-57 heading into the final period.
With it all to play for, the fourth quarter was always going to come down to a spell of brilliance. Thankfully for Dragons, it came from within their ranks.
The opening minutes of the period saw both teams going bucket for bucket as the game began to tighten up.
Dragons led 69-68 with just less than four minutes to play in the game, then up-stepped Lycoudis to strike the significant blow in the contest.
Having struggled to find his shot for much of the game, when it mattered most, Lycoudis rose to the fore, knocking down three straight triples to give the Dragons a commanding 78-70 lead.
With just under two minutes to play in the game, Dragons looked primed to see out proceedings, but as the third quarter showed, Riders weren’t about to roll over and accept defeat.
A quick three from Jimenez, and then another shortly thereafter from Gamble, saw the lead cut to 78-76 with 43 seconds left on the clock.
After missing two pivotal free throws to tie the game, the Riders were forced to intentionally foul Dragons, with the shot clock turned off.
Using all his experience, Rihards Šulcs coolly stepped up to the free-throw line and knocked down both to extend Dragons lead to 80-76.
Down four with less than 20 seconds to play, Riders needed a three, and after a flurry of missed threes, Dragons foolishly fouled Gamble in the act of shooting with less than a second on the clock.
Gamble stepped up and drilled three free-throws, but Dragons only needed to inbound the ball, and they did just that.
The Final Score, Bradford Dragons 80-79 Loughborough Riders. Dragons made hard work of it in the end, but after withstanding a comeback attempt, Coach Mellor’s team claimed a thoroughly deserved victory in the clutch.
A pivotal win for Dragons, who improve to 5-3 on the season and solidify their top-six spot.
The Official Calderdale College Player of the Game went to Andreas Lycoudis who scored 14 points (9 in the fourth quarter), and added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
Ricky Fetske top-scored for Dragons with 19 points and 6 rebounds, Great Osobor also continued his impressive start to life as a Dragon, scoring 16 points and adding 10 rebounds.
Riders' Harrison Gamble led all scorers with 27 points.
Coach Mellor pointed to the Dragons resilience down the stretch, he said:
“We finished the first half strong with a decent second quarter, but they outplayed us in the third. We regrouped again for the final 10 minutes, and we got the stops and made plays to close it out.”
Despite his shooting struggles early in the game, Andreas Lycoudis admitted he kept a shooters mentality throughout the game, he said:
“Personally, it was a tough shooting night for me until the fourth, but I knew they’d fall eventually, and the team got me some great looks, and I was able to convert them.”
Touching on the importance of the victory for the Dragons, Lycoudis added:
“It was a great team win, won on the defensive end. Although we let a 15-point half time lead slip, we kept positive, aggressive, and stuck to our defensive principles. It felt great to snap the losing streak and get back to winning ways.”
Next up for Dragons is the last game of the three-game homestand, with Worthing Thunder travelling to Nottingham for NBL Division One action on Saturday, February 20, with tip-off at 2.00pm.