Fresh off advancing to the BBL Trophy Final, the 16-0 Kestrels were in no mood to drop their first league game of the season.
Leading for almost the entirety of the game, the visitors shot 69% for the game as the Dragons struggled to slow down the visitor’s offensive onslaught.
Solent’s Travis Charles opened the scoring with a layup. The Dragons sole lead of the game came seconds later through a Dave Walsh three.
Then the Kestrels three-point bombardment began. Leading scorer Elliot Sentence knocked down the first of his five threes in the opening quarter.
Captain Elliot Dadds also got in on the action from deep as he swished home two threes. Behind 7-9 shooting from downtown, the league leaders opened up a 38-19 lead after the first quarter of play.
Unfortunately for the Dragons faithful inside of the Dragons Den, the second quarter followed suit.
Despite brief stints of positive play from Jermayne Laing and Rihards Šulcs, the Kestrels continued to build their lead.
Shooting 76% from the field, the visitors led 69-35 as the first half drew to a close.
Dragons continued to fight in the penultimate quarter, but the offense never managed to get into a rhythm.
Amidst the sizeable deficit, Dragons fought with resilience in the final quarter. Outscoring the Kestrels 33-28.
Sparked by ten points in the final period from Andreas Lycoudis, Coach Mellor’s team ended the game strongly.
The final score, Bradford Dragons 78-120 Solent Kestrels. A tough result for the Dragons who were beaten by a much better team on the day.
Head Coach Chris Mellor said post-game, “Solent got out to a big first-quarter lead and it was one-way traffic from then on. I’m disappointed we didn’t compete better, but they are a tough nut to crack right now for every team.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Jermayne Laing who recorded 18 points and 7 rebounds.
Dave Walsh top-scored for Dragons with 22 points and 6 rebounds. Rihards Šulcs added 12 points and 11 rebounds, notching his sixth double-double of the season in the process.
Elliot Sentence led all scorers with 23 points.
The following day, the Dragons produced a hugely important bounce-back performance with a 95-94 victory over the Nottingham Hoods.
Going down to the final buzzer, the win improves the Dragons record to 11-9 on the season, solidifying their position in the final playoff spot with six games to play.
With the heavy Solent defeat still fresh in the mind, Dragons came out fired up in the opening quarter.
Captain Ricky Fetske opened the games scoring with a fadeaway jumper. The hosts hit on their first three offensive possessions, building an early 6-2 lead.
Up 8-7 with just over two-and-a-half minutes played in the game, Dragons began to attack and convert in the paint at will.
Rihards Šulcs and Jermayne Laing combined for a 10-0 run with all four buckets coming in the form of a layup. With the Hoods unable to prevent the constant driving to the rim, the Dragons were able to build an early 17-7 lead.
As was so often the case throughout the game, just as Coach Mellor’s team developed a lead it was quickly eradicated by the visitors.
Costly turnovers proved to be a thorn in the Dragons side all afternoon long. Matt Armstrong knocked down a three that extended the lead to seven (29-22).
But as aforementioned, back came the Hoods. Two layups from top-scorer Demetrius Houston cut Dragons lead to 29-26 after the first quarter of play.
After a hot opening quarter, the hosts cooled off somewhat in the next ten minutes of play.
Hoods outscored the Dragons 24-17 in the second period, behind the shooting of Matthew Ward-Hibbert and Houston.
Scoring all but two of their team’s points in the quarter, the duo brought the Hoods back from as many as seven points down to lead by four at the interval (50-46).
Out of halftime, Dragons were a completely different offensive outfit. Punishing the Hoods lack of interior presence time after time in the third period.
Four of the Dragons first seven buckets in the quarter came courtesy of tenacious team offensive rebounding.
Down by five, a minute into the third quarter, the hosts reeled off 14 straight points to turn the game on its head. Laing, Šulcs, and Fetske all took advantage in the paint, increasing the Dragons lead to 62-53.
Then the visitors fought back again. A 10-2 run behind the play of Houston pulled the Hoods within one point (62-61).
Once again building a sizeable lead, Dragons went into the final quarter of play up by six points (76-70).
But like the second quarter, turnovers began to pile up and trouble the Dragons.
Tied at 88, an air of tension presided over the Dragons Den. Two free-throws from Jermayne Laing and a layup from Rihards Šulcs gave the hosts a 92-88 lead with just over two minutes to play.
However, six straight points from the visitors put them back in the ascendancy 94-92. Then came a pivotal game-changing moment.
Up two with 31 seconds to play, the Hoods Delaney Powell on his way to the rim, barrelled into Šulcs and got called for an offensive foul. In fouling out of the game, Powell added insult to injury by picking up a technical foul on his way off the court.
Handing Dragons a lifeline that Dave Walsh was more than happy to cash in (93-94).
Down one with 18 seconds to play, the Dragons called Ricky Fetske’s number in the clutch. The American was fed the ball in the paint before spinning and converting a contested floater.
Out of a timeout, the visitors looked to their star American Demetrious Houston, in the hopes of stealing a win on the road in West Yorkshire.
With 7.7 seconds left on the clock, Houston picked up the ball on the left and drove to the righthand side of the paint where he was met by several Dragons defenders.
Under immense pressure, Houston fired up a heavily contested shot that grazed the rim. The Dragons Den erupted and that was that the Bradford Dragons had escaped with a narrow 95-94 victory.
Dragons outrebounded the visitors 45-26 and outscored the Hoods 68-48 in points in the paint. Highlighting the hosts vast success in the paint all game long.
The final score, Bradford Dragons 95-94 Nottingham Hoods. A pivotal win for the Dragons who restore their four-point buffer over the Leicester Warriors as the race for the final playoff spot heats up.
Coach Mellor was pleased with his teams ability to clinch the victory down the stretch, “It was an up and down free-flowing game. Thankfully the cards fell our way down the end with the last few plays.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Jermayne Laing who recorded 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Rihards Šulcs added 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists on his way to yet another double-double.
Demetrius Houston led all scorers with 28 points.
Next up for the Dragons is a trip to face the third-seeded Hemel Storm on Saturday, 29 February at 7.00pm.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography