Bradford Dragons entertained Loughborough Student Riders on Saturday evening, in their opening National Basketball League division one fixture and, despite a poor first half performance, they turned things around to get their season off to a winning start (80-77).
Last season, despite being newcomers to the top flight, the Riders finished the campaign in a very respectable fifth position in the table, two places above the Dragons, despite Bradford having won both league fixtures between the two sides. Loughborough then went on the reach the end of season play off final, falling at the final hurdle against defending champions Manchester Magic.
The game struggled to get into any sort of pattern, with the ball quickly moving from end to end of the court, but with little end-product to show from either side. In fact, with over half of the first quarter played, both teams were still sitting in single figures (4-9).
Laing pulled the scores back to within three, this time from the free throw line and then, with two and a half minutes of the quarter remaining, he hit another two-point jump shot to pull the deficit back to a single point (10-11). However, the Riders opened the gap back up to four, following a three pointer from their team captain Jonas Dietrich, and the quarter ended with the scores at 12-16, in the away sides favour.
When play resumed for the second half, the visitors once again stretched their lead, this time to twelve points (36-48). It was only then that the home side finally clicked into some sort of rhythm, and at the half way point of the third period the gap was right back down to a single point (47-48).
Dietrich then hit another three-pointer to open their lead back to four points, but this time the Bradford side would not allow them to pull away. With the difference at three points, Bradford’s Marcus Gooding (sponsored by Gooding Funeral Services) was fouled in the act of shooting, from outside the perimeter and the American made no mistakes from the free-throw line to level the scores at fifty-three apiece.
Bradford’s other American import, Ricky Fetske, finally put the hosts in front with a three-point basket. Further scores from Eisley, Swaine and new signings, Oliver Hylands and Joaquin Calvo were enough to see Bradford taking a slim, one point lead into the final quarter (62-61).
Hylands extended Bradford’s lead to three, within the first seven seconds of the final period. However, the Riders weren’t giving up easily and with the clock showing just five minutes of play remaining it was the visitors who, once again, held a five-point advantage (66-71).
In those dying minutes, up stepped Rafi Saipe, who bucketed a succession of three-point shots to put Bradford back in front. With 19 seconds on the clock, Loughborough’s Dan Hemmingway tipped in, to pull his side back to within a point (78-77). Almost immediately, at the other end of the court, Fetske secured the win with one of his trademark slam dunk finishes. The game ended with a home win, 80-77.
Saipe, who also picked up the inaugural ‘Taco Bell Player of the Game’ award, top scored for the Dragons with 20 points. Sulcs recorded yet another double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds, as did Fetske, with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
After the game, head coach Chris Mellor commented, “They (Riders) came out far more aggressively and with much more intensity than we did and we really struggled to contain their speed and transition game.
“To only go in down 8 at the half was important and we were better in the third. We got ourselves ahead in the fourth, with Rafi hitting some big shots and we also got some key stops down the end.”
Next Saturday (14th October) the Dragons make the long trip to Barking Abbey, where they will face Kent Crusaders, who return to division one following a season in the second tier. This will be followed by a National Cup 3rd round fixture at third division WLV Albion (Wolverhampton) on Sunday afternoon.
The action then returns to the Dragons Den on Saturday 21st October, when the Dragons host Leicester Warriors. Tip off on the 21st is at 6:15pm and tickets are available via the club website.
Bradford Dragons under 14’s opened their account in this seasons National Basketball League Northern division with an 87-47 victory against City of Leeds.
Photographs © Alex Daniel Photography