Bradford Dragons faced a double header of games over remembrance weekend; however in their case it is likely to be a weekend they would rather forget.
A Saturday night thriller in the Dragons’ Den, which saw the Bradford side fall just short against their Division One rivals Loughborough Riders (68-71) was followed, less than 24 hours later with them being ejected from the National Cup at third division Milton Keynes Breakers.
There was a triple billing of basketball on Saturday at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre, the home of the Bradford Dragons. First up were the Dragons under 14s, who suffered a 20 point loss (46-66) against Barnsley Metros.
Then it was the turn of the Under 16s, who faced up against Tees Valley Mohawks, a game which saw the Dragons young guns take the win (59-50).
But the main event of the day was between the senior men’s team and Loughborough Riders, two in form sides in the National Basketball League Division One.
Whilst Bradford had won their previous three fixtures, the Riders had come off the back of a three loss start to their season to pick up wins in their last two, including an exciting overtime win at Solent Kestrels last time out.
Loughborough drew first blood, with a layup from Dion Collins, which he followed up with a successful hook shot to give the visitors an early four point lead. The Dragons pulled back and soon the game was tied at sixes. But Loughborough gradually pulled away again, this time building a five point lead, before the Dragons once more pulled back to tie the game. (13-13).
The opening period remained close, but when the buzzer sounded to signify the end of that first passage of play, the visitors held a narrow two-point lead (16-18).
The second quarter got off to a slow start with almost two minutes of play passing before any change to the scoreboard. Loughborough again made the breakthrough, through Justin Hedley’s layup and for the next couple of minutes the two sides matched one another basket for basket. But gradually Loughborough started to take a firm hold on proceedings building up a six point lead, then nine and by the end of the half they held a commanding twelve point lead (28-40).
After the break, the Dragons came out fighting taking the first six points to quickly halve the deficit. But any hope of a Loughborough collapse was quashed and they soon had the lead back at ten points. Their lead was reduced to eight points with the last score of the quarter, a Jordan Whelan lay-up (44-52).
The final period came alive when Bradford’s Dave Walsh landed a trey to quickly reduce the gap further to just five points. Loughborough then took the next two scores, putting nine points between the sides (47-56). Still the Dragons wouldn’t give up, but each time they pulled the game closer, the Midlanders would only pull away again and with less than two minutes remaining they were still six points to the good (59-65).
Ricky Fetske bucketed a layup to bring the game back to four points, and then Whelan was fouled whilst in the act of shooting and made no mistake from his two shots from the line. Then, up stepped Fetske again, who saw his three point attempt successfully landing to finally give the Dragons the lead (66-65).
Collins replied with a two for Loughborough, but Jermayne Laing restored Dragons lead with a layup. The clock had only thirteen seconds remaining, when Hedley put in a jump shot to give the visitors the advantage once more.
Dragons needed to score and with five seconds remaining Whelan drove in for the layup, but saw his shot bounce out and Loughborough’s Harrison Gamble picked up the rebound. The only option remaining was for the Dragons to foul, sending Gamble to the line.
The 6’10” big man, made no mistake with his two free throws, leaving the Dragons needing a trey to force the game into overtime.
With just three seconds to achieve that goal Chris Mellor called a time-out to discuss the plan with his charges. As play resumed the ball was played to Walsh, who had been on hot form from beyond the arc, but his final attempt missed the mark and Loughborough were victorious (68-71).
Walsh recorded the games high score with 19 points, which included five three pointers. Latvian Rihards Sulcs contributed 16 points for the Dragons and Whelan followed close behind on 14 points. Sulcs also picked up 10 rebounds to record a double-double.
Harrison Gamble and Joe Bielak each contributed 18 points to the victors score, with both Hedley and Collins also in double figures.
The following day, the Dragons travelled south to face Milton Keynes Breakers in the National Cup. The Breakers currently sit top of their Division 3 East table with an unbeaten five game start to the season. And despite their division three status, they boast a talented squad, which includes experienced guard, and former Thames Valley Cavaliers captain Blayne Freckleton.
The opening quarter went with the underdogs, who built up a five point lead (27-22). This was further extended to seven points by the half time break (45-38).
In the second half Dragons fought back and reduced the deficit to four points by the end of the penultimate period (54-50). They then levelled the game in the forth period (75-75) pushing the game into overtime.
But the hosts held firm and took the extra period by eleven points to five, to achieve the biggest shock result in the tournaments fourth round (86-80).
Sulcs hit 21 points for the Dragons, with Whelan close behind on 20 points.
As a reward for beating the Dragons, the Breakers will now travel North to face another Division One side, Team Newcastle, in the fifth round of the competition.
The Dragons are back in action at the Inspire Centre this coming Saturday at 6:15pm, when the Reading Rockets will be the visitors. Tickets can be pre-booked via the Dragons website.
Photos © Kristelle Templonuevo