The basketball season is back and the Bradford Dragons got off to a winning start, beating Team Newcastle University, 87-80, in their first group game of this season’s KitKing Trophy.
There are many familiar faces in the Dragons’ Den this season, most notably Rihard Šulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) who is now incredibly into his fifteenth season with the club. He is joined by Ricky Fetske, Jordan Whelan, Justin Williams, Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball), Micah Savery-Richards (sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd.), Jacques Misambu and Camron Simpson from last season’s roster. Also, returning from long term injuries, Andreas Lycoudis and Albert Margai return to the roster list, both of whom hope to be available for selection by the end of October.
Former Junior Dragon, Zion Tordoff (Sponsored by Bubbles & Barks Dog Grooming), who has spent the past five years advancing his game in the USA returns home to add some grit to both ends of the court. Meanwhile Great Britain under 18s and under 20s international, Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine), whom Dragons’ fans may remember as Manchester Magic’s top scorer against them last season, makes the move across the Pennines.
In preparation for Saturday’s fixture, the Dragons played a pre-season friendly, just one week earlier in front of a packed Dragon’s Den, Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre, against fully professional British Basketball League side, Manchester Giants. Whilst the Dragons had the better of the first half and kept Manchester close throughout, the Giants eventually showed their strength by taking an eleven point win, 84-95.
So, on to Saturday, and it was Team Newcastle University’s first visit to the Dragons’ Den of the 2023-24 season. Like last season the two sides are in a four team group, along with Derby Trailblazers and Manchester Magic. With each team playing each other once during this initial group stage, the top two teams will progress to the quarter finals of the competition.
Bradford set their stall out from the tip-off, with Šulcs first to the loose ball and rocketing down the offensive end to sink the first two points of the game. Williams then doubled the lead, which was quickly followed by a dunk by Tordoff to give the home side an early six point lead.
Minutes later, an unanswered eleven point run by the visitors saw Newcastle in the ascendency as they took a 6-11 lead. The lead swung from side to side throughout the remainder of the opening quarter, but a three-pointer from Williams in the final seconds of the period saw the Dragons into the first scheduled break with a four point advantage (23-19)
From the restart, Whelan sank a three to increase the Dragons advantage to seven, but again, Newcastle fought back, taking the next ten points to put them back ahead. With four minutes of the second quarter gone, Williams levelled the scores at (34-34) but Newcastle pulled away again and with less than two minutes to play in the half, they led by six (41-47). Successful sets of free throws from both Šulcs and Tordoff reduced the deficit to just two points going into the half time interval.
After the break, an early foul on Tordoff, sent him to the line to shoot two. Having missed the first shot he converted the second to leave the Dragons just one behind. Tordoff then brought the crowd to their feet with a trey, to finally restore Bradford’s advantage. He then followed that with another dunk to put his side further ahead, and after another trey from Williams the Dragons were firmly back in control (54-47).
But as we all know, Basketball tends to ebb one way and then the other and with just three minutes of the period gone, the scores were once again tied, this time at 56-56. The home team would keep edging ahead, only for their visitors to pull back level, however they did just enough to see the penultimate period out with a three point lead (67-64).
Into the final quarter and Newcastle quickly reduced the Dragons advantage to one but then Tordoff restored the gap and added an extra from the line (70-66). Savery-Rihards further extended the lead to six points, only to eliminated from the game, for a fifth foul, shortly afterwards.
Following the pattern of the game, Newcastle came back to level the game at 72 apiece, but another Williams two pointer restored the home side’s lead.
With less than two minutes remaining on the clock, the Dragons’ lead was up to seven points (79-72). Newcastle continued to work hard, but in the end they couldn’t stop the Dragons from taking the win (87-80).
Player of the Game, Justin Williams, top scored for Bradford with 27 points, followed by Zion Tordoff, who picked up a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Also in double figures was Jordan Whelan on 17 points, whilst Rihards Šulcs recorded the sides second double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
For Newcastle, Logan Rooney top scored, sharing the game high with Williams on 27 points and Justin Hopkins added a further 22 points to the visitors tally.
Newcastle played their second game of the tournament on Sunday, beating Manchester Magic by five points (85-80) at Newcastle University on Sunday afternoon. This was also Manchester’s second game of the tournament, having also been beaten, 81-57, at Derby Trailblazers on Saturday.
The Dragons now travel to the Manchester Basketball Centre next Saturday evening for a 7pm tip-off against Manchester Magic, whilst Newcastle host Derby Trailblazers the same Day. The final game of the group stage then occurs the following day, at the Clarance Wiggins Sports Centre when The trailblazers host the Dragons in a 5:30pm tip-off.