Only two seasons ago, the Leopards had taken the National Basketball League Division One title. However, this time around the Leopards are one of five teams currently embroiled in a relegation battle.
The first points of the game went to Essex, who hit a three pointer with the first shot of the game. Staight down the other end and Bradford’s American power forward, Ricky Fetske, immediately matched it with a three of his own. Essex immediately replied with a two-point jump shot, but again Fetske levelled instantly with a lay-up.
As the game resumed, Bradford extended their lead and remained in control throughout the second quarter. The Essex bench called the games first time out with 2:06 of the first quarter remaining, with the Dragons firmly in control, at 46-30 and as the two sides walked back to the locker rooms at half time, the home side were sitting pretty with a fifteen-point lead, 49-34.
Essex regrouped during the interval and showed much more fight during the second half of the game. Defensively, they restricted Bradford to just fourteen points in the third quarter of the game, and reduced the deficit to just ten points (63-53) going into the final period of the game.
And the visitors certainly made it a nervy final quarter for the Dragons, pulling themselves right back into contention. With only 22.1 seconds remaining on the clock the Bradford lead was down to just three points, at 81-78 and Essex looked to have Bradford on the ropes.
In typical basketball style, those few remaining seconds spanned a period of over three minutes, as Essex were forced to give fouls, in an attempt to regain control of the ball. But, with the hosts making no mistake from the free throw line, the tactics played right in Bradford’s hands and they doused Essex’s threat to finish the game off 85-78.
American point guard, Marcus Gooding headed the Bradford scoring with 25 points, followed by his fellow countryman, Fetske, who bagged 21 points and Latvian, Rihards Sulcs, 15 points.
Head coach, Chris Mellor summed up his team’s performance. “We played a good first half and got a good lead. But, fair play to them, they fought hard after the break and even though we had a double figure lead going in to the fourth quarter, we never qute put them away which made for a bit of a nervy last few minutes.”
The Dragons travel to the Amaechi Basketball Centre in Manchester, next Saturday, where they face last season’s runaway quadruple winners, Manchester Magic in their final away fixture of the regular season. The Dragons have found victories against Magic hard to come by in recent seasons, so that is one statistic they will be keen to alter. Tip-off in Manchester is at 6:30pm.
Then, the following weekend, the action returns to the Dragons Den for a double header weekend. Leicester Warriors are the visitors on Saturday (18th March) and then the following day, Hemel Storm are the competition in Bradford’s penultimate league fixture.
Dragons’ under 18s came out on top in a high scoring encounter (98-95) against Mansfield Giants, following overtime at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise Centre on Saturday. That game was followed by a 58-28 victory for the under 14s against Stockport Falcons II.
On Sunday, the under 16’s travelled to Harrogate St. Aidan’s Spartans, where they recorded an impressive 69-102 victory. Also on Sunday, in the only loss of the weekend, the under 14s went down 61-57 at Manchester Giants.
Photographs © ALEX DANIEL PHOTOGRAPHY