The Bradford Dragons went toe to toe with the NBL Division One’s top two teams and came up just short on both occasions. Losing 94-88 in Overtime against Hemel Storm on Saturday before falling 87-77 to the unbeaten Solent Kestrels on Sunday afternoon.
The Dragons fell to an agonising 94-88 overtime defeat in a gripping clash against Hemel Storm.
The Dragons led for large spells but found themselves on the wrong end of a nail-biting affair at the Dragons Den on Saturday evening.
It’s the first defeat in four games for a resurgent Dragons outfit who now sit at 3-6 in the NBL Division One.
Both teams got off to a slow start, missing their first five shots before Ricky Fetske dunked home the first two points of the game.
Fetske led from the front in the opening minutes, scoring the Dragons first nine points. Knocking down four successive field goals in the process.
The 6-2 Storm struggled with the Dragons defensive cohesion in the opening quarter as the hosts were locked in from the tip.
Albert Margai and Jermayne Laing combined for 11 of the Dragons next 13 points to end the quarter. Crushing the Hemel paint defence as the Dragons continually found success in the driving lanes.
The Dragons led 22-17 after the first ten minutes of action.
The opening five minutes of the second quarter was a back and forth affair with the visitors fighting back to level terms. Having been down by as many as seven in the quarter, Williams layup tied the game 28-28 with less than four minutes to play in the half.
Dragons then proceed to turn the game on its head, continually driving into the paint and with the visitors in the penalty, getting to the free-throw line at will.
Dave Walsh had four trips to the line, going 6-7 from the stripe. Most notably, cashing in, an and-one layup, that had the crowd roaring in appreciation as the Dragons went up by seven.
A mini 5-0 run from Fetske had the hosts up by a game-high 13 with a minute to play in the half. A frustrating four-point swing occurred in the final moments of the half. As the Dragons turned the ball over, the visitors came down the floor and drained a buzzer-beating two-point jumper.
An outstanding first-half performance culminated with the Dragons 49-40 to the good.
Fetske opened the third quarter with his third three of the evening, increasing the hosts lead to 12. So often the Dragons most consistent quarter, the third was a torrid affair on this occasion.
Post Fetske three, the Dragons went five minutes without a bucket, turning the ball over five times in that period.
Surprisingly, the lead was still at seven, but the next barren run of over two and a half minutes resulted in Hemel taking a four-point lead.
Walsh provided a pivotal response, at a time when the game felt as if it was getting away from the Dragons. Swishing home a three to trim the deficit to 59-58.
Ten turnovers in the quarter from the Dragons duly let the visitors back into the game. The game was all tied up after the penultimate quarter at 59-59.
The fourth started in a similar fashion as the visitors scored the first five points, much to the delight of the healthy away following.
Not to be deterred, the Dragons response was an 8-0 run.
An air of tension presided over the Dragons Den as both teams seemingly went shot for shot down the stretch.
Whenever the Dragons needed a score, up stepped Fetske who poured in 12 points in the quarter. None more important than the straight-on three the American drilled with 2:34 left on the clock. 78-73 in favour of the hosts.
Once again, back came Hemel. Williams sunk two big three throws before Sam Newman drained a deep three to tie the game up at 78.
On the next offensive set, Rihards Šulcs threaded the needle from the top of the arc, for a backdoor cutting Margai who caught the defence napping, sinking a clutch layup. The hosts were back in the ascendency with 40 seconds to play.
Chants of ‘defence’ reverberated around the Dragons Den. However, out of the timeout, Mike Williams soared to the rim and banked home a layup. Tied at 80, the game headed to overtime.
The game needed a player to rise up and unfortunately for the Dragons, that man was Hemel’s Bode Adeluola. Knocking down two big threes before sealing the game with two free throws.
Hemel head back South with the 94-88 OT victory but overall it was a solid Dragons performance that didn’t quite get the rewards it deserved.
Coach Mellor commented, “ It was a tough loss because we did so many things right but ultimately, we turned the ball over too many times at crucial moments.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Ricky Fetske who top-scored for the Dragons with a monster 35 points and 13 rebounds performance. Dave Walsh also added 17 points.
The following day, the Dragons were beaten by an impressive Solent Kestrels outfit in the Fourth Round of the National Cup.
The Dragons held Solent to their joint-lowest total of the season, in an 87-77 victory, the visitors were made to work for.
Despite two games in as many days, the Dragons battled until the final moments against a fresh and undefeated Kestrels outfit.
The previous day against Hemel, Bradford came out hot, but it was the visitors who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the first quarter.
Solent came out blazing from deep with Elliot Sentance and Brendan Okoronkwo knocking down a combined four threes in the opener. The Dragons looked lethargic on both ends of the floor as the visitors opened up a 24-15 lead after the first period.
Dragons picked up the tempo in the second quarter, but the visitors went up by a game-high 19 points. Heading back to the locker room it was the team from Southampton who led 49-32.
Out of halftime, the Dragons fought back with a vengeance. Solent made the first score of the half but down 19, Bradford went on a 12-2 run that forced the visitors into a timeout.
Walsh and Lycoudis drained two threes with Šulcs and Laing converting layups either side.
Undeterred the visitor’s response was an emphatic one. Showcasing their fluid ball movement, Solent increased their lead to 17 as the penultimate quarter came to a close.
A resurgent Dragons team wasn’t ready to let the visitors advance to the next round just yet though.
With the deficit at 73-61, Walsh took it upon himself to drag his team back into the game. Knocking down two threes that were complemented by a pair of Šulcs free throws. The hosts had roared back to within four points with less than six minutes to play.
That was as close as the Dragons came but they pushed a top Solent Team until the final buzzer.
Tenacious until the very end, the Dragons will look to take two hugely promising performances into next weekend’s NBL Division One clash against the 3-6 Westminster Warriors.
Head Coach Chris Mellor said “We played tired without energy first half. Second half we were much better but trying to climb out of a 19-point hole was always going to be tough.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Dave Walsh who scored 18 points and also added five rebounds and three steals. Rihards Šulcs led all scorers with 22 points.
Next up at the Dragons Den is the aforementioned NBL Division One clash against Westminster Warriors on Saturday, November 30 at 6.15pm.
Meanwhile, in Junior Dragons action, it was a mixed bag of results over the weekend. The U16s fell to a tight 67-59 defeat against the Tees Valley Mohawks. Whilst, the U18s convincingly defeated the Chesterfield Flyers 90-55.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography