Despite almost a month passing since the Dragons 100-82 demolition of the Derby Trailblazers, Dragons showed no signs of rust with a tremendous all-around team performance that ensured they leapfrogged the Warriors up into eighth, and into the playoff positions for the first time this season.
The Dragons led for the majority of the game; however, it was the visitors who opened the scoring. Rodrick Howell converted a tough and-one layup that gave the Warriors an early 3-0 lead.
Struggling to find their legs early on the offensive end, Bradford set the tempo on the defensive end as they locked in from the tip. Clogging the passing lanes and contesting every shot at the rim, the Warriors were left in no doubt of the challenge they would face all evening long.
Both teams were cancelling each other out in the first quarter, as neither team led by more than three points.
A thorn in the Dragons side all game, Martyn Gale then knocked down back-to-back three-pointers once again switching the balance of power in favour of the visitors (14-13 Warriors).
A true Illustration of the hosts’ dominance on the boards; with the game clock winding down, Laing skied in from the wing to corral an offensive rebound and float a shot off the glass to end the first period.
Heading into the second quarter, the Dragons were up 22-19 as they started to impose their will on the game.
As the Warriors began to splutter offensively, the hosts ensured they took advantage.
Dragons were taking control of the game with efficient turnover-less play, as Andreas Lycoudis and Dave Walsh both knocked down threes, the hosts went up 36-28 with just over five minutes to play in the first half.
Held to just two points in the opening ten minutes, TJ Henderson, the league’s second-highest scorer at 27.5 points per game, started to heat up.
Keeping the Warriors in touch with the Dragons, the American scored 11 straight points as his team faltered, single-handedly keeping the visitors within striking distance going into the interval.
Despite Henderson’s heroics, the Warriors still found themselves down by 11 at the half (46-35), as Coach Mellor’s team produced an outstanding second-quarter performance on both ends of the floor.
Out of half time, the visitors sprung into life and started the second half on a 9-2 run that trimmed the deficit to four points.
Dragons nullified the onslaught with two much-needed threes from Fetske and Walsh that increased the hosts’ lead to eight points.
Warriors response was to go on a 7-2 run that cut the Dragons lead to a single possession game, as a palpable tension presided over the Dragons Den.
But just as the game seemed in the balance, the visitors went on a scoreless four-and-a-half-minute stretch that proved to be game-changing.
Dragons scored nine straight points, ballooning the lead to 12 points. The hosts had turned up the intensity, harrying the Warriors at every opportunity.
The visitors finally ended their baron run in the final seconds of the third quarter. Akiel Dublin notched his solitary bucket of the game with a buzzer-beating layup off an offensive rebound.
Led by their infectious tenacity, the Dragons were up 65-55 with a quarter to play.
As Gayle knocked down his fourth three of the game, the Warriors had once again cut the lead to single digits (69-62), but up stepped Kenny Ogunneye for a monumental spell off the bench.
Scoring eight of the Dragons next ten points in a 10-2 run, Kenny personified the hosts’ grit and determination. First clogging the paint to produce a steal before going coast to coast, collecting his miss, and laying up the ball with the Dragons 15th offensive rebound of the game.
With just under three minutes to play, Walsh looked to have sealed the deal as he gave the Dragons a game-high 18-point lead with his fourth three of the evening (84-66).
The visitors then frayed a few nerves amongst the Dragons faithful with 11 straight points, cutting the lead to 84-77. However, in truth, the lead was never really in doubt and the Bradford Dragons secured a hugely important victory in the race for a playoff berth.
Dominating the boards with a 53-32 advantage, producing a staggering 23 offensive rebounds in the process. Culminating in five Dragons recording six or more rebounds in an outstanding team effort.
The final score, Bradford Dragons 84-77 Leicester Warriors. A fifth win in seven league games for the Dragons who continue to improve as the season goes on.
Coach Mellor was pleased with his sides performance, “I was worried we would be a bit rusty having not played for a month, but I was really happy with how we played at both ends. We had the lead pretty much the whole game, but it was never totally comfortable until the buzzer.”
The Official University of Bradford Player of the Game went to Kenny Ogunneye who recorded 10 points and 6 rebounds in just 14 minutes.
Ricky Fetske recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds with Rihards Šulcs also notching a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Dave Walsh added 19 points, knocking down four threes (4-8).
Leicester’s TJ Henderson and Martyn Gale led all scorers with 21 points apiece.
Next up for the Dragons is a road trip to face the Essex and Herts Leopards on Saturday, January 18 at 6.15pm.
In Junior Dragons news, the U14s fell to a tough 91-75 defeat at the hands of the Tees Valley Mohawks. Elsewhere, the Dragons U16s blew away East Durham 77-48 and the Dragons U18s recorded a narrow 74-66 victory over JLC Scunthorpe Wolves.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography