Bradford Dragons made the perfect start to 2015, with hard fought victories against Manchester Magic, in the National Basketball League division one, and Kent Crusaders, in the National Trophy quarter final.
Manchester were the visitors to the Dragon’s Den on Saturday evening, a return to the scene where they inflicted a 29 point defeat on their hosts, back in September. Led by Coach Paul Middleton, they have made an impressive start to their 2014/15 campaign, establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the division.
A closely fought second quarter took a bizarre twist, with Manchester leading 34-35, when, three minutes before half-time, Middleton received a technical foul for a comment made seemingly towards his own player. On disputing the referee’s call, he then received a second technical and was ejected from the arena, reluctantly leaving his team in the hands of his assistant, Tolve Bayher.
The Dragons seized the moment and went into the locker room with a seven point advantage, at 47-40.
Manchester, still fuming over the earlier incident, came out to make a point in the second half, and scored ten unanswered points before their hosts even realised they were back on court. Bradford responded with a run of their own to regain the lead, before a collision at the end wall resulted in Nathan Ashley finishing his game with a head injury. The Dragons closed the penultimate period out with a seven point lead, 67-60.
Dragons started the final quarter with real purpose and quickly increased their advantage to 17 points. Manchester stared to pull themselves back into the game as Chris McGrew, Rihards Sulcs and Miguel Lorenzo were all fouled-out of the game for Bradford. However, Bradford had just enough left to make sure of the victory and at the final buzzer the scores stood at 90-85.
American J.P. Davis top scored for the Dragons with an impressive 35 points, whilst Sulcs added 15 points and Lorenzo notched up a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Head coach, Chris Mellor said, “Manchester hurt us on the boards and in transition, during the first half. But I was happier with our effort after the break and we got ourselves in a strong position, with a 17 point lead. Although they made a big run, towards the end, we managed to keep our noses in front.”
Sunday saw Bradford’s first appearance in the National Trophy quarter final and with a semi-final berth up for grabs it was the young guns of Kent Crusaders that stood in their way. Kent’s young squad have been one of the surprise packages so far this season, having lost only once in the league so far this season as well as making it to this quarter final game.
The visitors lived up to their fierce reputation and led by 5 points at the end of the first quarter (15-20), which they maintained throughout the second period to enter the locker room at 30-35.
Neither team managed to take control of the game in the third quarter, with the lead alternating between the two sides. But as the final break arrived, the Dragons just held the advantage at 52-50.
The Dragons were on fire at the start of the final period of play and put themselves in a strong position, building a 12 point lead (64-52). But, the Crusaders weren’t finished yet and with only 8 seconds left on the clock the scores were once again tied, at 73 apiece.
Davis hit the deciding basket with only a single second remaining on the clock, bringing the score to 75-73, and despite the visitors setting up one final attack they were unable to make the shot and it was the home side that made it through to the semi-final.
Both Davis and Sulcs finished the game with 19 points each and captain Vance Silcott added 12 to the score.
Mellor reflected on the game by saying, “Kent were always going to provide tough opposition and it proved to be another very physical game. They led through much of the game, but thankfully J.P. managed to hit the winner. It’s been a good start to the year and sets us up for a semi-final, away at Leicester, but we’ve got lots to work on moving forwards.”
Leicester are the Dragons’ next opponents, in next Sunday’s league fixture at Bradford College Sports Hall, Trinity Road, BD5 0JE (tip-off 4:15pm). Tickets are available on the door, or in advance at www.ticketsource.co.uk/bradforddragons.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY