In the reverse fixture against the Rebels, back in November, the Dragons had controlled the game and built up a big lead, but in the final quarter Essex had hit back strong and came within three points of the Dragons total (85-88).
Having failed to win a game during the first half of the season, Essex’s form has improved dramatically since Christmas, taking two victories in their last three games, lifting them off the foot of the table.
With a newly found confidence the Rebels started Saturday’s game strongly, quickly racking up a five point lead. Zach Gachette then dropped the first basket for the home side as well as the next three and with just under four minutes played Bradford had their first lead of the game (8-7).
Rihards Śulcs increased the lead to three, but then successive baskets for the Rebels swung the game back in their favour. However, as the quarter progressed the Dragons slowly started to take control of the game and when the buzzer went for the end of the period, the home side held an eight point advantage (19-11).
After the break, Enyon bucketed a quick three which was backed up by a double by Ben Winter to pull the Rebels back to just thirteen behind. But as the two sides tussled, again the Dragons pulled away and after five minutes of the third quarter the gap was back to nineteen points (62-43).
The momentum then swung back in the Rebels direction, but at the end of that penultimate period the Dragons were still in firm control at 67-53.
Extending their lead to twenty points (74-54) within 90 seconds of the restart, the Dragons were sitting pretty and when Gachette sank his two-point floating shot, with under five minutes remaining it was seemingly game over with the Rebels needing to overturn a twenty-two point deficit.
Matthew Disu responded with a two point lay-up, for the visitors which was quickly followed by a two and then a three from Enyon. Child then hit a three and the gap was down to twelve points (78-66), with three and a half minutes to play.
Two further threes, one each by Enyon and Child, further reduced the gap to six points and then Disu dunked to pull the Rebels within just 4 points (78-74) and, with Bradford having not scored in the last four minutes of play, momentum was firmly with the Rebels.
A foul sent Gachette to the line and as reliable as ever, he calmly sank both shots to bring slight relief for the Dragons. But in a flash, Disu layed up to bring the scores back to four (80-74).
Śulcs then turned the ball over, giving Enyon the opportunity to shoot another three, but this time he saw his attempt come back off the rim.
A further foul on Gachette then sent him to the line once more, but this time, uncharacteristically, he missed on both attempts.
With six seconds remaining Tom Child missed with another three point attempt, but Hodges took the offensive rebound, playing the ball to Disu, who made no mistake with his two point jump shot.
The Dragons were relieved to hear the sound of the final buzzer, just as that basket went in. They had just held on, again, to take the win by a mere two points (80-78).
A twenty point turnaround in the final five minutes of the game, was not quite enough for the Rebels, but was a fantastic example of why the game of basketball is such an unpredictable and exciting spectacle.
The games high score was shared by Gachette for the Dragons and Enyon for the Rebels, each with a 26-point total. Fetske and Dave Walsh each added 14 points to the Dragons’ total, the former also taking 12 rebounds to record another double-double and earn him the Player of the Game award. Śulcs also recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The following day, it was the turn of the BA London Lions to enter the Dragons’ Den. Based at the Barking Abbey Basketball Academy, the side have recently been taken under the umbrella of the Lions British Basketball League (BBL) franchise, providing the Academy players with a clear progression path.
A mixed season for the Lions, so far has seen them improve on the previous years results, but with a significantly negative points difference, unbecoming of a team sat in the top half of the table, underlining that there is still room for improvement.
This should have been the most difficult of the two weekend games, however the Dragons set their stall out early and at the end of the opening period they had opened up a nine point advantage (26-17).
That lead opened up further to fourteen points, early in the second period, but the Lions pegged it back to just four (45-41) with just three minutes of the half remaining.
A timeout called by Dragons head coach, Chris Mellor, restored the Dragons dominance and at the half the gap was back to nine points, at 50-41.
There was no let up for the Lions after the break, who struggled to contain the Dragons offence and when the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter the gap was up to twenty (76-56)
Emmanuel Kanwei hit a quick three at the start of the final period, but determined not to see a repeat of the previous day, the Dragons continued to pile on the pressure and half way through that final ten minutes, their lead was up to twenty-seven-points (92-65).
Still leading by twenty-six with under three minutes to play, the Dragons could be forgiven for easing up, but even then the Lions couldn’t do enough to make a significant dent in the home sides lead. Stephen Asante hit a final three pointer for the visitors in the final seconds to finish the game with the Dragons taking the spoils by a big twenty-point margin (100-80).
Once again, Gachette took the game high score, this time with 23 points, but the Player of the Game went to Micah Savery-Richards, who made 22 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Fetske also added 18 points to the Dragons total.
The Dragons face another double-header next weekend, with a key away fixture against Reading Rockets, on Saturday, which could have a big influence on which of the two teams finishes highest in the table at the end of the season.
Then on Sunday, at the slightly later than normal tip off time of 6:30pm, Team Newcastle University travel to the Dragon’s Den. Newcastle have taken the spoils in both previous meetings between the teams this season, but the Dragons will be looking to extract revenge this time around. Tickets for the game are available via the clubs website.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography