Bradford Dragons succumbed to a difficult 105-82 road defeat by the Hemel Storm on Saturday evening.
With the Leicester Warriors losing the first game of their weekend doubleheader 70-57 on the road at the Loughborough Riders, the playoff picture remains the same. A four-point buffer in favour of Dragons separates the two teams vying for the final playoff spot.
After three successive defeats, the 15-6 Storm bounced back with a dominant home performance against Dragons.
The hosts got off to a red-hot start, opening the game with ten straight points. Threes from captain Walid Mumuni and Sam Newman were complemented by scores from Bode Adeluola and leading-scorer Michael Williams.
Scoring seven straight points courtesy of an Andreas Lycoudis three and four points from captain Ricky Fetske.
With the Dragons struggling to get into an offensive rhythm, the Storm began to take control of proceedings.
As Jake Murphy converted an and-one opportunity, Hemel’s lead had grown to 27-15 with just under 30 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
A Dave Walsh layup did cut the hosts lead to 27-17 as the first quarter came to a close.
The second quarter followed a similar pattern of play as Hemel maintained their double-digit lead throughout.
The hosts were particularly active in the passing lanes, securing six of their 11 steals in the game, in the second period alone.
As the Dragons worked to trim the deficit to single digits, they were consistently met with an emphatic response.
None more so than the three-quarter court heave from Michael Williams to beat the buzzer at the half.
After a converted and-one opportunity from Jermayne Laing had reduced the deficit to 13 points, the 23-year-old American guard swished home the most unlikely of threes at the buzzer. Dragons went into the interval down 54-38.
Third quarters have often signalled the start of second half revivals for Dragons this season, but this wasn’t to be one of those days.
Scoring 27 points for the third straight quarter, the blistering shooting of the hosts was too much for Coach Mellor’s team to handle on this occasion.
Two layups from Adeloula and Mumuni increased the Hemel lead to 20, minutes into the penultimate quarter.
Combining for a staggering 28 assists in the game, the Storm came up with eight assists in the third quarter alone.
Down by as many as 28, the Dragons did rally together a 10-2 run in the final two minutes of the quarter to reduce the deficit to 88-68.
With any hopes of a Dragons comeback quickly stifled, an additional eight assists in the fourth quarter helped push the hosts on their way to a comfortable victory.
The final score, Hemel Storm 105-82 Bradford Dragons. A difficult evening’s work in Hertfordshire for Dragons who were met by a reinvigorated Hemel team in no mood to lose a fourth straight game.
Coach Mellor gave an honest review of his team’s performance, “ We never really got any kind of foothold in the game and we were not at the required level defensively. Hemel shot the ball very well and it was a tough night for us.”
Ricky Fetske led all scorers with 24 points alongside 14 rebounds, notching his 11 th double-double of the season in the process. Rihards Šulcs added 16 points and 8 rebounds.
The defeat leaves the Dragons record at 11-10. With just five games left of the regular season, Dragons will look for a swift response in next weekend’s NBL Division One doubleheader.
First up, another long road-trip to face the Westminster Warriors on Saturday tipping off at 5.30pm. Before returning home to the Dragons Den on Sunday, to face the Reading Rockets at 4.15pm.
In Junior Dragons news, the U14s produced a sensational performance, defeating the Chesterfield Flyers 81-74 to secure their first league victory of the season.
Photograph © Alex Daniel Photography