For Saturday’s opponents, Loughborough, this is their first season in the top flight of the National Basketball League. However, despite their inexperience at this level of the game, they started the game from third place in the table, two places and two points ahead of their hosts.
Bradford, having lost their last three games, two of which were against the current league leaders, Team Northumbria, were in no doubt, before the game that this was going to be another stern test of their playoff credentials.
The Dragons opened the scoring and quickly opened up a five-point lead (9-4), before the Riders showed why they are where they are, not only levelling the scores (9-9) but going on to open up a nine-point lead of their own (13-22).
But that was as good as it got for the visitors, and by the time that the first quarter drew to a close, it was the Dragons that held another five-point advantage (29-24).
In the third quarter, the fans were treated to a couple of moments of brilliance. Firstly, with Loughborough’s Alex Roberts picking out a defence splitting pass for Reiss Pinnock to score with an alley-oop. Then, with only 90 seconds of the quarter remaining, Bradford’s Rihards Sulcs grappled the ball from the hands of Max Richardson, laying the ball off to Marcus Gooding who returned it to Sulcs, who had advanced the full length of the court, to take a reverse layup and another two points for the Dragons.
As the buzzer signalled the end of the penultimate period, the hosts had doubled their lead to fourteen points (73-59).
The Riders continued to fight, but the Dragons were now in full control of the game. The visitor’s frustration showed when Sulcs again stole the ball, in his own half and as he set off down the court he was tripped by Richardson, who was called for an unsportsmanlike foul. Sulcs stepped up to take both free throws and then, with possession being handed back to the Dragons, Rafi Saipe followed up with another reverse lay-up.
There was no doubt that the Dragons were the better team on the night and they closed the game out with a convincing 95-76 victory.
Ricky Fetske put in a sterling shooting display, sinking 81% from the floor, to finish the game on 35 points (8 rebounds, 4 assists). Fetske’s fellow American, Gooding, added 18 points (2 rebounds, 6 assists). However, the game’s MVP was Sulcs who clocked up a triple double, 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. In a fantastic team effort, Jermayne Laing and Rafi Saipe also contributed with 10 points each.
On Sunday, the Dragons made the long trip to the Brentwood Centre to face Essex Leopards, who uncharacteristically have made a poor start to the season, albeit having won their previous two games.
A combination of several hours on the motorways, along with fatigue from the previous evening exertions appeared to have taken its toll on the Dragons, who failed to get going in the opening quarter, which finished with Essex seven points ahead (20-13).
Bradford improved in the second period of play, but, at half-time they, went back to the locker room still 5 points behind, at 38-33.
After the break, the Leopards opened the gap up to ten points before the Dragons went on a scoring run of their own, to pull back to a single basket margin (54-52). But, at the end of the third quarter the margin was back to five points, with the hosts leading by 63 points to 58.
With three minutes played of the final quarter, a Marcus Gooding three pointer leveled the scores (67-67) but that was as good as it got for the travelling Dragons as Essex pulled away once more and finished the game as deserved victors, 83-79.
Gooding played the full 40 minutes and finished as the game’s high scorer, with 27 points (3 rebounds, 0 assists). He was supported by Sulcs, who contributed 14 points (5 rebounds, 3 assists) and whilst Jason Swaine (1 rebound, 2 assists) and Ricky Fetske (4 rebounds, 0 assists) added ten points apiece. Antonio Deogratias also chipped in with 8 points.
A reflective Chris Mellor commented after the game, “We played pretty good for all four quarters, against Loughborough. Our energy, execution and ball movement was where it needs to be and twenty-nine assists and only nine turnovers were big factors. Against Essex, we got in some early foul trouble and we didn’t get into a good rhythm, but we hung around and when we tied the game, at sixty-seven each, I thought we had good momentum. But, we allowed too many easy baskets late in the game.”
Bradford’s final home fixture, before the Christmas break, takes place in the Dragon’s Den next Saturday (3rd December, 6:15pm) against last season’s quadruple winners, Manchester Magic. Despite Magic beating Bradford in the pool stages of the National Trophy, earlier this season, the Dragons will fancy their chances this time around. Games between the two sides are always great occasions and this one is set up to be an early Christmas Cracker. Tickets for the game can be purchased via the Dragons’ website.
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY