Bradford Dragons faced a tough double header weekend on the South Coast and came home empty handed, following defeats against Worthing Thunder, 93-87, on Saturday evening and Team Solent Kestrels, 87-73, on Sunday afternoon.
Former British Basketball League side, Worthing Thunder, one of the most established names in the UK arm of the sport, have had a steady start to this seasons campaign, with a win record of five from eight prior to the weekends fixtures.
The Dragons got off to a fantastic start with three pointers from Rafi Saipe (sponsored by Made4Fighters) and Ricky Fetske, either side of a two from Jermaine Laing, putting the visitors eight points in front. Half way through the opening period, the Dragons had maintained a one hundred percent shot conversion, leading 12-17.
With the game being played at blistering pace, both teams matched one another, shot for shot through the remainder of the period and, as the buzzer sounded, the visitors were in possession of a three-point advantage, 28-31.
As play resumed, the game continued along a similar pattern and, at the mid-point of the second, Worthing called the first time-out of the game, with the Dragons up by five, 39-44. Two minutes later, it was Bradford’s turn to call for time, with the scores at 43-46, still in their favour.
Bradford drew first blood after the break, with Fetske bucketing a two-point jump shot. Straight down the other end Taylor once again tied the game and as the Dragons turned the ball over on their next play, Brendan Okoronkwo stepped up to hand Worthing their first lead of the game, 56-54.
The hosts stretched their lead to four points, but Bradford fought back and with five and a half minutes played in the third quarter they regained the lead through Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography).
The lead toed and froed through the remainder of the quarter: however, the Dragons edged it, going into the final sector of the game with a three-point advantage, 68-71.
Worthing pulled the deficit back to a single point on the first play in the fourth quarter, but Eisley Swaine hit a three to stretch the visitor’s lead to four. But, two and a half minutes in, Taylor once again tied the game for the Thunder (74-74).
Two minutes of turnovers, missed shots and handling errors followed from both sides, but it was the home side that broke the deadlock through Aiman Rezk and Jorge Ebanks to put the hosts ahead (78-74). The Dragons hadn’t scored for six minutes of play and it was down to Laing to get them back on the board, hitting his two free throws following a foul by Rezk.
But as the final few minutes progressed, Worthing tightened their grip on the game and saw the play out to record the win, 93-87.
Following an overnight stay, the Dragons were back on court for a lunchtime tip-off on Sunday, at the new home of Team Solent Kestrels, Fleming Park Leisure Centre in Eastleigh. The Kestrels have had a strong start to the season and currently sit third in the division one table.
Whilst the hosts had enjoyed their Saturday off, the efforts of the previous evening seemed to have taken its toll on Bradford. By the time Laing put the first points on the board for the Dragons, Solent had already built up a four-point lead and, whilst the visitors were still sleeping, the hosts stormed ahead to lead 24-13 at the end of the first quarter, which they stretched further to 49-27 at the half time buzzer.
But, it was a different story in the third, as Bradford finally found their groove, initially led by a brace of two-pointers from Oliver Hylands, who had sat out on Saturday as a result of the previous weekends head injury.
With contributions from Sulcs, Saipe and Fetske, the visitors took the third quarter, 21-32 (68-59) to set up an exhilarating final period.
With four minutes remaining, a Gooding jump shot put the Dragons within striking distance (75-69). However, by now fatigue was setting in and Solent were able to pull away again. Although, Fetske tipped the ball in, from an initial attempt by Laing, right on the final buzzer, it was not enough to stop the home side from taking a convincing victory, 87-73, and condemning Bradford to their third defeat on the bounce.
Sulcs headed the Dragons’ score list with 17 points, supported by Saipe and Laing with 13 points apiece. Also worthy of notable mention, Hylands contributed 12 points on his return from injury.
Chris Mellor, Bradford’s head coach, reflected on the weekends action, saying, “I thought we played pretty well on Saturday overall, but Taylor closed the game well for them and we allowed them some key offensive rebounds down the stretch.
On Sunday, we didn’t turn up in the first half and although we dug ourselves out from twenty-five down and cut it to six late in the game, we just left ourselves way too much to do.”
The Dragons entertain third placed Reading Rockets in the Dragons’ Den next Saturday (6:15pm), in another tough fixture. This is Bradford’s final home fixture before the Christmas break, which will also see the clubs annual winter raffle draw take place, during half time. Tickets for the game are available from www.bradforddragons.co.uk.
Whilst the Dragons’ under 16s saw their scheduled fixture against Durham Wildcats postponed, the under 14s travelled to play Tees Valley Mohawks, at Teeside University’s Olympia building. The Teesiders subjected Bradford’s youngsters to a thumping defeat, 64-29 (Kristians Haidukovs 11 points).
Photographs © Mirror Box Studios