The game was a tale of two halves for Dragons who put on show all their grit and resolve in a second-half performance that almost produced a remarkable comeback, outscoring the Riders 47-28 in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Dragons came into Saturday evening’s game looking to consolidate last weekend’s win over the Essex and Herts Leopards. Whilst their 2-1 counterparts from the East Midlands travelled to Bradford looking to avenge a heavy first defeat of the season at the Reading Rockets on Matchday 3.
First quarters have been something of an Achilles heel for the Dragons this season, and so it proved once more against the Riders. In all four games to start the NBL Division One season, Bradford has trailed heading into the second quarter.
Riders danger man Rasheed Worrell opened the games scoring with a layup inside the opening 30 seconds. Dragons responded instantaneously from a Ricky Fetske three, with the American putting the hosts in the lead for the first and only time in the entire game.
Breaking out into a 29-7 lead with three minutes to play in the first period. The visitors were killing the Dragons on the boards. Loughborough captain Reis Pinnock had nine first quarter points in the run that ballooned the lead to 18 points.
Bradford responded with a couple of layups from Kenny Ogunneye and four successive free-throws from Dave Walsh to close the gap to 11 points heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter proved to be an offensive struggle for the hosts who scored a season-low 12 points in the quarter, as they went down by as many as 25 points.
Down 40-27 with 4:55 to play in the half, an abundance of offensive rebounds for the visitors culminated in a 12-point surge that blew the game wide open.
Kyle Jimenez and Worrell were the key protagonists combining for ten points in the run that stunned the Dragons Den into silence. The Dragons were seemingly second to every loose ball and every rebound in the first half as they trailed 51-34 heading into the locker room.
Whatever Coach Mellor had said during the interval sparked his side into action in the third quarter. Down 23 points, the hosts needed something special and quickly. A defensive renaissance was of paramount importance and eight successive stops to start the second half certainly was a beginning.
Jermayne Laing was a catalyst for Bradford as he gave the home faithful a flicker of hope in the third period. Racking up 11 third quarter points as the Dragons cut the arrears to 13 points heading into the final quarter.
Laing’s work on both ends of the floor riled the team, and suddenly a sense of belief was emanating from the Dragons bench. The hosts locked down their counterparts in the third. As the teams rebounding picked up exponentially, so did the Bradford offense.
Coach Mellor went with the five of Rafi Saipe, Andreas Lycoudis, Fetske, Laing and Šulcs to start the fourth.
All long-time Dragons, the five produced an enthralling run that brought the hosts roaring back within touching distance of the Riders. Down 13 with 8:22 to play in the game, Bradford went on a team-high 12 point run that brought them to within one point.
In the penalty, Dragons knew they needed to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. They did just that as Fetske, Laing and Šulcs all went two for two from the charity stripe.
Pinnock quickly stifled the run, however, scoring a huge layup for the Riders. Without a basket in over four minutes, the visitors captain gave the Leicestershire based side a crucial 73-69 lead.
The aforementioned Laing then secured his fourth steal of the game, the Dragons transitioned with speed and Šulcs went up and landed awkwardly amidst heavy contact on the layup attempt. Before dusting himself off and sinking two huge free throws that got Bradford back on level terms 73-73.
Despite letting a monumental lead slip, the Riders unnerved, reacted with two huge buckets. Firstly, David Forsyth knocked down a jump shot and then Pinnock extended the Loughborough lead to four points with a layup.
On the next offensive trip down the floor, Lycoudis was fouled and swished two huge free-throws that had the Dragons within two points, with just over a minute to play.
Then came the heart-wrenching dagger. As the ball was crisply rotated around the perimeter by the Riders, the ball came to Kyle Jimenez who knocked down a deep three with the shot clock running down. Suddenly, the lead was back to five.
That was that for the Dragons who fought back valiantly but ultimately left themselves with far too much work to do in the second half.
Head Coach Chris Mellor commented, “We didn’t turn up first half and they played well but, in the end, it was very disappointing not to close out the game having come back from 25 down to tie the game with two to go.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Jermayne Laing who recorded 17 points, 4 steals, and 4 assists.
Captain Ricky Fetske recorded 17 points and 8 rebounds with fellow Dragons stalwart Rihards Šulcs adding 18 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals
Rasheed Worrell led all scorers with 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Loughborough Riders.
Next up for the Dragons is a home clash against Liverpool on Saturday, October 26 at 6.15pm.
Meanwhile, in Junior Dragons news, the U18s defeated the East Durham Lions 90-81. The U16s beat Leeds Gold 65-54, whilst the U14s suffered an 88-79 defeat against the Rotherham Hawks.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography
Match Report by Tom Lamming (Student Press Officer).