In only their second season in the top flight, Loughborough currently occupy second spot in the National Basketball League Division One, only two points behind leaders Team Solent Kestrels but with two games in hand. Meanwhile the Dragons have struggled to find consistent form this season and find themselves in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle.
Bradford’s big man, Ricky Fetske won the jump ball, sending team-mate Rihards Šulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography) on the offence, only to be fouled in the act of shooting. Šulcs, however, missed both of the resultant free throws, allowing Max Richardson to open the scoring at the other end, for the hosts (2-0).
Loughborough doubled their lead before Fetske put the first points on the board for Bradford. Jermaine Laing and Šulcs followed up with a couple of layups, and Rafi Saipe (sponsored by Made4Fighters) hit a single from the free throw line to Bradford three up (4-7).
It didn’t take long, in the second quarter, for Loughborough to take control of the game and with only two-and-a-half minutes of the period played they had built up a commanding ten-point advantage (26-16) with Bradford still to add to their first quarter tally.
The Dragons gradually worked their way back into the game, and with only ninety seconds of the first half remaining they had reduced the gap to just two points (30-28). However, a three pointer from Lucien Christofis, followed by another two from Richardson sent the hosts back to the locker rooms ahead by seven (35-28).
Sesan Russell bucketed an early three, to put the hosts lead back into double figures and although Bradford showed occasional glimpses of a comeback, the Riders had soon extended their lead to fourteen (49-35).
In the final minute of the period, Calvo sank another couple of layups, but it wasn’t enough to stop the hosts from carrying a fifteen-point advantage into the final quarter.
Šulcs opened the final quarter with a two-point layup, but Loughborough captain, Jonas Dieterich, answered back with a three.
But then, the Dragons went on an unanswered run of their own, to bring themselves right back into the game, at 67-64 and although Loughborough opened it back to five points, Marcus Gooding (sponsored by Gooding Funeral Services), who has struggled to replicate his scoring form of last season, hit a three pointer to put Bradford within touching distance (71-69).
However, it wasn’t to be and there were to be no further additions to the visitor’s tally, as Loughborough closed the game out with an eleven-point win (80-69).
Šulcs took the game high score with 24 points (8 rebounds, 3 assists), whilst Calvo also put in an impressive shift with 14 points (2 rebounds, no assists). Fetske just failed to record another double-double with 9 points and 14 rebounds.
For the hosts, Russell recorded 19 points, followed by Reis Pinnock with 13 points.
Coach Mellor commented after the game, “We were playing catch up most of the game and we didn’t play with the necessary intensity until late in the game, which was disappointing.”
The Dragons now face a couple of key fixtures against two of the bottom three teams in the division, Kent Crusaders and Leicester Warriors, and failure in those games could put Bradford into the bottom two and facing a potential relegation. However, with the division being as tight as it is, wins against these two sides is likely to put the Dragons back into the playoff spots.
Kent, who were promoted back into the top flight this season, visit the Dragons Den’ on Saturday (20th January, 6:15pm). The Crusaders won the reverse fixture, earlier in the season and they will be keen to pull themselves out of the drop zone, whilst Bradford will be just as keen to put some distance between themselves and the bottom two. Advance tickets for the game are available via the Bradford Dragons website.
The following weekend, Bradford travel to Leicester Warriors, who are currently level on points with the Dragons, but three places below them, by virtue of points difference, making this another game that the Dragons can ill afford to lose.
In other news, the Dragons’ under 16s went down 80-40 at Durham Wildcats (Great Osobar 20 points, Olufemi Bright 16 points, Milos Kangrga 2 points, Arnas Kildisas 2 points).