Bradford Dragons faced the first of two key fixtures, in their fight to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle, beating Kent Crusaders, 96-86, in the Dragons’ Den on Saturday evening.
Having finished 2017 on a high, with wins against Reading Rockets and Lancashire Spinners, the Dragons were hoping for a better start to 2018, suffering defeats at both Derby Trailblazers and Loughborough Student Riders.
Kent were themselves relegated from the top flight in 2016, but bounced back at the first attempt. However, despite some good performances this season, most notably beating former champions, Manchester Magic, the previous weekend, they have once again found themselves in the drop zone.
It was a tentative start to the game, with both sides missing shots in the opening minute. But, it was the visiting Crusaders that opened the scoring, when Great Britain under 18 international, Caleb Fuller, sank a three pointer from the perimeter.
This was to be Kent’s one and only lead of the game, as Bradford hit back, first through Jermayne Laing and then Eisley Swaine, to put the hosts four points up (7-4).
The lead increased to seven, but the Crusaders came back to reduce their deficit to a single point (21-20). This only acted to spur the Dragons, who went on an unanswered nine-point spree, including a long distance three pointer from American point guard, Marcus Gooding (sponsored by Gooding Funeral Services), taking them into the first break ahead by ten (30-20).
As in the opening quarter, Kent opened the scoring in the second period, this time with a two-point jump shop from Alex Ferguson, which they followed up with another two from Dwayne Orija (30-24). Gooding pulled the lead back to eight points, before Ferguson brought it back to within five points with a three pointer. Not to be outdone, Gooding stepped in with another three (35-27).
The visitors refused to lie down and once again they closed the game to five points (51-46), however it was Bradford who had the final say with yet another three-pointer from Gooding, sending the home side back to the locker rooms with a nine point advantage (57-48).
Straight from the restart, Fetske popped in a three to increase the Dragon’s lead to twelve, followed by a further two points from Swaine, to put them yet further ahead.
A succession of baskets from Gooding, gave Bradford a nineteen-point advantage (75-56) at the half way stage of the penultimate period and although Ferguson hit a single from the line, Rihards Šulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography) popped up for two, to make it a clear twenty-point lead (77-57).
The remaining four minutes of the period belonged to the visitors, with Bradford only sinking a single field shot, through Laing, plus two from the line following a foul on young Swaine. But, when the buzzer sounded for the end of the third, the visitors had given themselves a fighting chance, at 81-70.
Another Great Britain under 18 international, and product of the Leeds Force junior programme, Micah Savery-Richards, brought the game back to single figures, from the restart and with less than ninety seconds of the final period played, the gap was down to just four points, 81-77.
In similar situations, the Dragons have folded under such pressure, but not this time as they started to stretch the game back out again. When Fetske sank his jump shot, with two minutes remaining, the hosts were once again holding a double figure lead (90-80).
Kent still refused to give in, however with time running out they were, as is so often the case in basketball, forced into giving up fouls, as they attempted to gain possession of the ball. But the Dragons kept them at arms-length and saw the game out for an extremely important victory (95-86).
TACO Bell Player of the Game, Gooding, who was back to his shooting best, took the game high with 30 points, whilst his compatriot, Fetske, recorded his customary double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Swaine put in another strong performance, adding eighteen points to the winning tally and Šulcs just missed out on a double-double of his own, hitting 13 points and taking 9 rebounds.
Dragons head coach, Chris Mellor reflected on the win, stating, “Offensively I thought we played well. We moved the ball and our execution was good. “Defensively we weren’t great but, credit to them, they have several guys that can cause problems off the dribble and also hurt you from the perimeter, Even though we had a twenty point lead at one point, the game was still in the balance until pretty much the final two minutes.”
The victory lifts Bradford back into a play-off position and gives them a slight breathing space between themselves and the bottom two. However, they face another crucial fixture next weekend when they travel to Leicester Warriors.
The Warriors currently sit three places, but only two points behind Bradford, whilst also holding a game in hand, making this another must win fixture for Bradford.
The Dragons’ juniors had a torrid weekend, with the under 16s going down 44-94 to York Eagles, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College. Meanwhile, the under 14s also took a heavy defeat, 76-35, at Derbyshire Arrows.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography