Bradford Dragons returned to action, following a 4 week break, on Saturday evening with the visit of Loughborough Riders to the Dragons’ Den, at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre. In an all too familiar pattern of play this season, the Bradford side went behind by fifteen points during the first half of the game, turned it around and took the lead in a strong third quarter, but were unable to carry the momentum through to the final buzzer, eventually falling to a five point defeat (82-87).
The two sides had contrasting records going into the fixture, with Loughborough holding a seven win, three loss record and sitting comfortably in sixth in the Division One table, compared to Bradfords three win, seven loss tally and holding onto eighth position by the skin of their teeth. However, bolstered by the addition of American forward, Ronald Blain (sponsored by Bliss Bakery Bakes and Positive Outcome Associates), to their roster, the Dragons remain confident that they can improve on their league standing during the second half of the campaign.
Loughborough were quickest out of the traps with Justin Hedley putting down a quick two pointer. This was quickly negated by Blain’s first two points in Dragons’ colours. Conroy Hayden restored Loughborough’s lead with a layup, only for Blain to then hit the first trey of the game to give Bradford their first lead (5-4).
The opening four minutes of play, followed a similar pattern with the lead ebbing from side to side, but gradually Loughborough found their rhythm and built up a twelve point lead, before a driving layup by Justin Williams (sponsored by the Ireland family) reduced it to ten points (18-28), just before the buzzer brought the first quarter to an end.
The Riders continued to dominate throughout most of the second period, increasing their advantage to fifteen points before Bradford had added even a single point to their tally. Bradford fought hard though, and with just over a half of the quarter played, they had pulled back to within seven (32-39). However, two minutes later, the difference was back up to fifteen points (32-47) following another eight points unanswered run by the visiting side.
Blain then hit a two for Bradford, which was quickly followed up by a trey from Andreas Lycoudis, his first since returning from his two and a half season lay-off through injury. When the teams returned to their locker rooms at half time, the Dragons had managed to get the gap back into single figures, with Loughborough holding a nine point advantage (42-51).
After the break, as we have seen so often this season, it was a completely different story in the third quarter with early scores from Blain, Williams, Blain again and Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) levelling the fixture at fifty-one apiece within two minutes of the restart. Hayden then put the visitors back in front before Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles and Barks Dog Grooming) hit a trey to give Bradford their first lead since the opening period of the game (54-53).
The Dragons were in the ascendancy and, with under three minutes of the penultimate period to play, a two-point lay-up from Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) put the home side six points ahead (69-63). However, Loughborough came back and levelled the scores going into the final ten minutes (71-71).
The next five minutes saw the two sides battle it out almost shot for shot, but as fatigue started to set in, it was the Loughborough side that held their nerve, gradually opening up a five point lead. Despite Williams and Sulcs pulling the home side back to a single point deficit, they were left chasing the game and as time ran out they were forced into giving away fouls, sending the Riders to the line. The final buzzer sounded to herald another defeat for the Dragons (82-87) and a win for Loughborough which moved them up a further ranking in the league standings.
The big positive for Bradford was a Player of the Game performance from their new signing, Ronald Blain, which saw him register a game high 23 points along with seven rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Rihards Sulcs and Joe Buchanan both contributed 15 points each to the Dragons tally, with Justin Williams adding a further 13 points.
For the Riders Elijah Bailey and Justin Hedley both scored 19 points apiece with Victor Ndoukou just behind on 18 points.
The Dragons travel to Uxbridge this coming weekend, where they will face the Thames Valley Cavaliers who currently sit two points and three places below them in the league standings. However, the Cavaliers did beat the Dragons on the opening day of the season, so Chris Mellor will be looking for his side to exact their revenge this time around.
The following weekend, they are back on their home court for the visit of Reading Rockets (Saturday 27th January, 6:15pm). Tickets for this game are now on sale via the Dragons website, with a 20% early bird discount available until Midnight on Friday 26th January.
Photography © tagevision