Derby have been flying high this season, currently sitting in second place, just two points behind leaders Manchester Magic and have not been out of the top three all season. Although the Dragons had earned a dramatic single-point victory against them in the pool stages of the National Trophy in October, it only took two weeks for Derby to extract their revenge, dispensing a thumping twenty-two-point reversal when the two sides met again in the early rounds of the league season.
The Dragons welcomed new signing, Dwayne Camille to their bench, a player of whom head coach, Chris Mellor, says is a player that can help at both ends of the court. Camille moves to the Dragons from neighbouring BBL side, Leeds Force, joining just before the closure of the transfer window for new signings.
Bradford were quick off the mark in the second period with Fetske sinking a two-point jump shot to regain a home lead. But the Blazers still kept them close and, with half of the period gone, it was them that held a single point lead (28-29).
However, as the quarter progressed, Bradford grew and grew in stature and they stared to exert control over the game. New boy, Camille, sank a clean three-pointer to once more take home advantage, with 3:39 remaining on the clock, and whilst the Dragons offence saw mixed results from their efforts it was the defence that earned the plaudits, restricting Derby to a couple of single-pointers through the rest of the period.
As the teams returned to their respective locker rooms for half time, the home side had built a respectable seven-point lead, 40-33.
Into the second half and a couple of early three-point baskets, one apiece from Rafi Saipe and Adria Rodriguez Vinas, extended the home lead to thirteen.
There was a short delay in proceedings when a mid-air collision, between Sulcs and Derby’s Brian Amablino Perez, resulted in the visiting player crashing his head into the back wall. Perez was eventually helped off court, quite clearly dazed and play continued once the referees were happy that any blood had been cleared from the play zone.
Whilst Derby refused to give up, they couldn’t make any serious inroads into the home side’s lead and just as the clock struck two minutes remaining, of the penultimate period, Fetske popped in another two points to give the Dragons a game high fifteen-point gap, 62-47.
It was then that the visitors started to click again, although at the end of the period Bradford were still nine-points clear (65-56) and looking good for the win.
Home advantage was restored to thirteen points, three minutes into the final period and it looked as though Bradford were cruising towards a well-deserved victory. The Trailblazers had other ideas, however, turning the game completely on its head.
Perez had miraculously returned to court, now sporting a white head bandage and he played a big part in Derby’s comeback. Whist Derby upped the tempo, Bradford appeared to cave in to the pressure, going a full five minutes without scoring and gradually seeing their lead diminish, whilst also having three of their players fouled out of the game. With only ninety-two seconds of the game remaining Derby finally managed to level the scores, to then take the lead when Perez sank one of this two free throws.
Vinas, levelled the game again for the Dragons, once more from the free throw line, but that was to be the last score for the home team. When coach Mellor called a timeout, with only three seconds remaining, the game was already effectively over, with the away team holding a five-point advantage and as no further points were put on the board, the game ended with a Derby victory, 74-79.
Ricky Fetske topped the Bradford scoring with a commendable 23 points, along with 13 rebounds to record a double-double. Dwayne Camille made an impressive debut for his new side, scoring 13 points, which included three from four three-pointers, whilst Nick Moore also contributed 10 points and Rihards Sulcs 9 points.
A disappointed Mellor said after the game, “I am obviously gutted with the loss. I thought we played well for thirty-five minutes, but in the last five we missed key foul-shots and offensively down the stretch we just didn’t get good looks at the basket. Fair play to them though they hung around when they were down, upped their defence at the right time and made plays and foul-shots in the last few minutes.”
Next up for the Dragons is a long trip to second from bottom Kent Crusaders, at Medway Park in Gillingham, next Saturday. Kent have only won one game in the league so far this season, although that was in the reverse fixture at the Dragons Den, back in November. The Bradford players will be keen to set the record straight by recording the win on their travels.
The long journey on Saturday is not the ideal preparation for Sunday’s National Trophy semi-final against league leaders and National Cup winners Manchester Magic, who in contrast have no league fixture next weekend. The game tips off in the Dragons Den at 4:15pm on Sunday afternoon, 7th February and the Dragons will be hoping for a bumper crowd to help roar them to victory, against the odds, and into their first major final since joining the top flight. Tickets can be purchased in advance, via the club website, or at the door on Sunday. Win or lose, supporters are assured of a great afternoons entertainment.
Dragons’ under 18s beat Tees Valley Mohawks, 74-41, in the prequel to the main event on Saturday evening. However, the under 16s took a heavy defeat to City of Birmingham, 46-99, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College on Saturday lunchtime. That game was preceded by the under 14s who thumped Sheffield Junior Sharks II, 113-30.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY