Bradford Dragons travelled to Uxbridge University on Saturday evening, to face the Thames Valley Cavaliers. In a closely fought encounter the Dragons registered their fifth win of the season (104-109) in order to keep a hold on the final berth for the end of season playoffs.
The teams last met on the opening day of the season, when in another close encounter the Thames Valley recorded the win (78-84) on the Dragons’ home court. Since then, the Cavaliers have only managed to pick up two more wins and sit just outside of the relegation zone, whilst Bradford have fared slightly better, with four wins leading up to this fixture.
The game got off to a slow start, with two turnovers and six missed shot attempts before Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) finally broke the deadlock with two points from the foul line. Jordan Whelan (sponsored by Napoleons Casino & Restaurant, Bradford) quickly followed up with a trey to give the Dragons a five point lead, and at the halfway point of that opening quarter a Ronald Blain (sponsored by Bliss Bakery Bakes and Positive Outcome Associates) lay-up further extended the difference to seven points. Blain then added a three pointer to put the gap into double figures (6-16). However, the home side were not giving in easily and reduced the deficit to just two points by the end of the period (24-26).
At the restart Bradford set about increasing their lead, but a resilient Thames Valley side, led by the evergreen Bode Adeluola managed to tie the game (35-35) with just short of four and a half minutes of the first half remaining. That, however, was the trigger that spurred the Dragons onto a thirteen point unanswered run and despite a brief respite for the hosts, when Mergim Sokoli roused the home crowd with a dunk, the Dragons continued to build a sixteen point lead (37-53) before the buzzer announced the half time interval.
Immediately from the restart, Igor Stokic sank a trey for the Cavaliers, but that was quickly cancelled out by a further three pointer by Whelan. Four minutes in and the Dragons lead was still at 16 points (50-66) but then the home side started an eight point run of their own. Infact, the lead came down as far as six points (62-68) before the Dragons managed to pull back into double digits. In the final minute of the penultimate quarter Zion Tordoff’s (sponsored by Bubble & Barks Dog Grooming) single from the line put Bradford twelve points clear but a couple of further baskets from the hosts, coupled with two missed three pointers by the Dragons, sent the sides into the final period with a mere seven points between them (69-76).
Justin Williams (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) calmed any Dragons nerves with a two point floating jump shot at the start of the fourth and Whelan then added a lay up to restore a double figure cushion. But, the Cavaliers were not done yet and over the next couple of minutes they pulled themselves right back into the mix, just three points behind (77-80).
The two sides sparred with one another for the next few minutes but gradually the visiting Dragons’ managed to pull away again. With just three minutes remaining the gap was back to twelve points (87-99) but once again the home side fought back and with just thirty six seconds of play remaining there was only a solitary point separating the two sides (104-105).
Blain again settled Bradford’s nerves with a successful lay-up and when Stokic then missed two attempts from the foul line the hosts were in desperate need of possession and gambled on sending Blain to the line for two shots of his own. The American converted both and it was game over, with the Dragons taking the win by just five points (104-109).
Bode Adeluola put in what would normally be an MVP performance, netting 30 points for Thames Valley. However, this was dwarfed, almost into insignificance, by an incredible 41 point tally from Ronald Blain, to which he added 14 rebounds and 4 assists, earning him the National Basketball Leagues Player of the Week award. Justin Williams contributed 27 points towards the winning total, with Jordan Whelan being the only other Dragon in double figures with 11 points.
Supporting Adeluola for the Cavaliers, Stokic recorded 28 points and 15 rebounds whilst A J Roberts and Mergim Sokoli also registered double figures with 17 and 13 points respectively.
The action returns to the Dragons Den this coming Saturday, 27 January, with a 6:15pm tip-off against the Reading Rockets. Tickets can be purchased in advance via the club website, with an early bird discount available for all bookings made before Midnight on Friday.
Reading arrive fresh from their appearance in the National Cup Final last Sunday, where they were beaten by second division side Milton Keynes Breakers, who become the first side from outside the top flight to win the competition.
In other interesting developments over the weekend, the first division’s bottom side, Barking Abbey, finally recorded their first win of the season, with a four point victory at City of Birmingham Rockets.