In recent seasons, Bradford have enjoyed a favourable record against Leicester Warriors, despite their visitors having beaten them in the reverse fixture this season. Following their recent upturn in form, the Dragons would have hoped for a win in front of their home crowd.
Leicester, who included former Dragon Carl Pearson in their starting five, had other ideas, building up an early eight-point lead during the first quarter. However, Bradford fought back to close the scores to within a single point by the close of the period, with Leicester leading 17-18.
The home side were growing in strength, and this showed throughout the third period of play, in which Bradford’s lead was extended to six points, 61-55. But Leicester Warriors, coached by ex-England international Karl Brown, were far from finished and whilst Bradford struggled to maintain their momentum in the final quarter, the visitors stepped on the gas and finished the game with a twelve-point turnaround to win the game, 74-80.
Nicholas Moore led the scoring for the Dragons with 20 points, whilst Rihards Sulcs contributed 14 points and Jason Swaine 9 points to the Dragons total. For the Warriors T. Rothstein finished as the games top scorer on 26 points.
The following day, the Dragons needed to pick themselves up for the long journey to face Essex Leopards, who although a very different opponent to last season’s table toppers, are still proving to be a major force in the division.
The Dragons held the lead for the opening five minutes of the game, however a Tosin Oyelese dunk put the hosts ahead at the half way point of the opening period. The Dragons quickly reclaimed the lead through a Sulcs jump shot and the advantage continued to change hands throughout the remainder of the quarter, Jamie Hayes putting up the final basket to give the Leopards a 15-14 lead.
Three and a half minutes into the second quarter a Moore two-pointer levelled the scores for Bradford (20-20) and when another former Dragon, Tom Martin, missed his shot, Sulcs was next up to reclaim the lead for the Dragons. It was a lead that the visitors did not relinquish for the remaining five minutes of the period and at the half-time buzzer, coach Mellor’s team had a firm control of the game, at 25-31.
It wasn’t long, after the break, before the Dragons’ lead was increased to eleven points (30-41) and although the Leopards fought back to level the scores (48-48) the penultimate period ended with Bradford again leading (48-52).
Bradford saw the size of their lead grow and fall throughout the final period and, with little under five minutes remaining, Evan Walsh stepped up to the free throw line to level the game, yet again, for Essex. But, whereas earlier in the season Bradford heads would have gone down, the visiting Dragons regrouped and finished the game the strongest to take the win, 70-74.
Moore once again headed the scoring for Bradford, clocking up yet another double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Sulcs added a further 14 points to double his weekends total, also achieving the double-double with 10 rebounds, whilst Henri Bongoma also scored a very respectable 11 points.
Coach Mellor gave his honest opinion on the weekends games, saying, “Against Leicester, we started poorly and even though we were up a point at half time our effort, concentration and execution of what we were trying to do was nowhere near where it should have been. Things improved in the third quarter but we didn’t build a big enough lead and they hung around. If I’m honest, I messed things up with rotations in the last quarter, but they (Leicester) deserved the win. At Essex, defensively we were much better, right from the tip, both from individuals and as a team. Even though they tied the game, after we blew the lead, we kept our composure down the end and closed out well.”
It was certainly an important win for the Dragons, as weekend victories for both Kent Crusaders and Tees Valley Mohawks would otherwise have pulled Bradford back into the relegation dog fight. As things stand, Bradford remain in 11th position, two points behind 10th placed Worthing Thunder, who are yet to visit the Dragons Den this season, and 9th placed Leicester.
Next Saturday, Team Northumbria are the visitors to the Dragons Den. The Newcastle outfit narrowly edged the reverse fixture (83-86) in November and the Dragons will be keen to set the record straight this time around. The game tips off at the usual time of 6:15pm.
Elsewhere, the Dragons under 18’s beat Leeds Force II, 79-75, in a game that went into overtime as the prequel to the NBL1 game on Saturday evening. Earlier the same day, the under 16’s beat Manchester Giants, 69-54, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College, but then went on to a heavy defeat at Manchester Magic, 117-48, the following day.
All photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY