Bradford Dragons defeated Barking Abbey 76-72 in a hard-fought NBL Division One battle on Saturday afternoon.
In a game that went right down to the wire, the Dragons clutched a third successive victory, and in the process, claimed their seventh win in the last eight league games.
On a day where fellow playoff-chasing Leicester Warriors defeated Reading Rockets 83-71, the Dragons resilient win could prove to be even more important come the end of the regular season, in just over a month.
Looking to bounce back from two narrow losses in recent weeks, it was Barking who stormed into an early 10-0 lead.
Dragons got off to a slow offensive start, missing their first nine shots of the game as Theo Hughes, Tautvydas Mieliauskas, Veron Eze and Tim Shodipo all got on the scoreboard early for the hosts.
Rihards Šulcs scored the Dragons first points, four minutes into the game, via two made free throws.
Coinciding with the empty Barking scoring run, a 7-0 run courtesy of Dave Walsh, Šulcs and Andreas Lycoudis got the Dragons back to a one-score game with three minutes to play in the first quarter.
Both teams traded buckets for the remainder of the quarter as the hosts led 19-17 at the end of the opening period.
The opening four minutes of the second period followed suit with the two sides seemingly going shot for shot.
But another lengthy barren offensive spell shortly thereafter from the hosts was duly taken advantage of by the Dragons.
A 10-0 run from Coach Mellor’s team fired the visitors into their first lead of the game. Four Dragons scored in the run that propelled the team into a 33-28 lead.
Just as the visitors looked to be taking control of the game, Barking responded by scoring ten straight points of their own.
Eze and Hughes both knocked down a three each, in the run that handed the young team a 38-33 lead with 46 seconds left to play in the half.
Jermayne Laing trimmed the half time deficit to three points (38-35) with a mid-range jumper in the Dragons final offensive possession of the half.
In a game of runs, the third quarter proved to be a challenging period for Dragons. Up by as many as ten, Barking’s three-point shooting was causing the visitors problems.
Hitting five threes in the quarter, the hosts almost doubled the Dragons three-point makes for the entire game. Shooting a mere 3-25 from long-range, the visitors torrid shooting afternoon, really put Barking in control.
After Thomas Sowoolu banked home a driving layup, the hosts were up 61-51 with just under two minutes to play in the penultimate quarter.
Lycoudis and Walsh both scored at the charity stripe, cutting the Barking lead to seven points as the third period came to a close, (61-54).
On a tough offensive day, the Dragons knew they needed to find their deepest resolve of the season if they were to take maximum points back to Yorkshire.
In the face of adversity, Dragons responded like only they know how; by battling until the final buzzer.
Starting the fourth as they meant to go on, the visitors went on a 10-2 run that put them back in control, up 65-63. Kenny Ogunneye and Šulcs inserted their dominance on both sides of the ball with their tenacious rebounding key down the stretch.
Tied at 69-69, captain Ricky Fetske rose to the occasion and knocked down a jumper that gave the visitors a narrow 71-69 lead. Louis Norton responded with a big-three pointer that would soon become the final points of the afternoon for the hosts.
Dragons stalwart Rihards Šulcs then stole the ball and drove on the fast break for a pivotal layup that once again put the visitors back on top, (73-72).
As Barking went cold, the Dragons kept their composure. Andreas Lycoudis went to the free-throw line and hit two clutch free-throws with 22 seconds left on the clock, extending the lead to 75-72.
On their final offensive possession of the game, out of a timeout, with 11 seconds on the clock, Barking’s Jude Carmichael turned the ball over amidst tenacious Dragons defensive pressure. Left with no choice but to foul, the hosts sent Šulcs to the free-throw line where he knocked down 1-2, sealing a clutch 76-72 road victory for the Dragons.
The visitors clamped down defensively and held Barking to a game-low 11 points in the final quarter.
Despite offensive struggles, the Dragons more than made up for it on the defensive end. Outrebounding Barking 54-48 and grabbing 11 steals to the hosts eight. Resulting in a crucial 14-7 fast break advantage when all was said and done.
The final score, Barking Abbey 72-76 Bradford Dragons. The low-scoring victory takes the visitors to 10-8 on the season and within two points of the Worthing Thunder who sit in seventh place after the weekend’s results. Whilst the win simultaneously maintains the Dragons four-point buffer over the ninth-seeded Leicester Warriors.
Coach Mellor said post-game: “It was a tight game throughout, and we just managed to get some key stops in the 4th and make some shots when it mattered.”
Dave Walsh led all scorers with 20 points. Rihards Šulcs notched his fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 17 rebounds. Kenny Ogunneye added 8 points and 14 rebounds.
Next up for Dragons is a home doubleheader. Firstly, on Saturday, February 22 at 4.15pm against the league-leading Solent Kestrels. Followed on Sunday, February 23 at 6.15pm with a clash against the Nottingham Hoods.
In Junior Dragons news, it was a mixed bag of results with the U14s losing a difficult road game to the Derbyshire Arrows 110-44. Meanwhile, the U16s defeated the York Eagles II 74-62.
Photograph (c) Alex Daniel Photography