Bradford Dragons faced their first double header weekend of the 2023-24 season with two away fixtures in the KitKing Trophy group stage. The Dragons beat Manchester Magic on Saturday evening (60-73) at the Manchester Basketball Centre, but then lost in the Clarence Wiggins Sports Centre, Derby, the following day against Derby Trailblazers (93-76).
Earlier on Saturday, the Trailblazers had travelled north to play Team Newcastle University where an extremely tight and hard fought game resulted in a slender 78-81 win for the Derbyshire side. This left Newcastle with just one win from their three group fixtures, and with Manchester having already lost to both Derby and Newcastle, the Dragons knew that a win on Saturday would be sufficient to see them through to next weekend’s Quarter finals.
The Dragons started Saturday’s game with real intent; Zion Tordoff (sponsored by Bubbles and Barks Dog Grooming) won the ball at the tip off, and Justin Williams sank the first trey of the game on the first offensive play. This was immediately followed by Rihard Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) stealing the ball, from a poor pass by Manchester’s Noah Togo, and sprinting down the court to make a layup and put the Dragons five points ahead.
By the halfway point of the opening quarter, the lead was up to ten points (5-15) and by the end of the quarter the Dragons were sitting comfortably with a fifteen point lead.
Manchester managed to reduce the Dragons’ advantage by two points in the second quarter, with the scoreline at half time being 24-37.
The rest of the game was a fairly scrappy affair with neither team being able to assert their dominance on the game. The penultimate period finished with the Dragons sixteen points clear (37-53) but this was again reduced to just thirteen by the end of the game (60-73).
But, it was enough to give the Dragons the win that they needed to secure their quarter final spot.
For Bradford, it was no surprise that Justin Williams was once again their top scorer, with a tally of seventeen points. He was closely followed by Jordan Whelan with 16 points and Micah Savery-Richards (Sponsored by Milestone Design Ltd. – Eco Kitchens) on 15 points.
However, the game’s high scorer was Manchester’s Andre Gayle with a total of 20 points. Noah Togo also contributed in double figures, with 11 points for the home side.
So, onto Sunday and a showdown between two sides that were on an identical two wins from two games record. The winner of this fixture would finish top of the group and claim a home fixture in the quarter finals, whilst the loser would finish second and therefore travel away in the knock-out round of 8 teams.
Bradford took first blood in the game, with Sulcs laying-up for two on the first offence, after another successful jump ball for Tordoff. Malcolm Smith then levelled for Derby, but Bradford’s Jabari Edwards (sponsored by KW Basketball) restored the visitors’ advantage. From that point Derby took full control of the game and despite the Dragons making the last two scores in the opening period, the hosts held a nine point advantage at the first scheduled break (26-17).
Bradford held the game much closer in the second period, reducing the deficit to eight points at the half time interval (44-36), but Derby reasserted their dominance in the third quarter, to give themselves a big twenty point lead (73-53) going into the final quarter.
With the game all but won for Derby, the Dragons continued to strive to reduce the deficit and when the game ended it was marginally down, to seventeen points (93-76) securing the home quarter final berth for Derby.
For Bradford, Jordan Whelan was the top scorer with 13 points, followed by Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) and Micah Savery-Richards with 12 points apiece. Also in Double figures were Justin Williams and Zion Tordoff, who both contributed 11 points each to the Dragons’ Total.
The game high went to Derby’s Jonas Dieterich who bagged an impressive 29 points. Raheem May Thompson (21 points), Malcolm Smith (17 points) and Sam Maston (16 points) also hit double figures for the home side.
The Dragons will now travel to the Midlands on Saturday to face newly promoted City of Birmingham Rockets in their quarter final match. Although this is Birmingham’s first season in the top flight, they are certainly not a team to be taken lightly, having already beaten established D1 sides Nottingham Hoods and Loughborough Riders in the group stages of the KitKing Trophy. It’s clearly going to be another tough fixture and the Dragons will need to be at the top of their game if they are to proceed through to the semi-finals.
Meanwhile Derby will host London Lions II in their quarter final match up, whilst in the other two fixtures Reading Rockets have a home fixture against Essex Rebels and Hemel Storm welcome Milton Keynes Breakers.
The following Saturday, October 7th, sees the start of the National Basketball League Division One fixtures and Bradford Dragons will be hosting Thames Valley Cavaliers, in the Dragons Den, at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre. Tip off for that game will be 6:15pm and the club are encouraging all supporters to prebook their tickets online, via www.bradforddragons.co.uk/tickets where an early bird discount of 20% is available until 24 hours before the game.
In other news, Bradford Junior Dragons got their competitive season underway with both the under 16s and Under 18s playing in their respective age categories of the National Cup first round, in a double header at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College on Sunday.
The under 16s faced a tough fixture against Manchester Giants Green, who took the win 48-85 to send the young Dragons out of the competition. But in a hard fought game the Under 18s took an 82-78 victory against East Durham Lions and will now proceed into the second round.
Photos © Max Lomas Photography