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Dragons’ News

Trophy Heartbreak for Bradford Dragons

March 20, 2024

It wasn’t to be for the Bradford Dragons, in their first ever major cup final in the clubs 23 year existence. Having qualified for the KitKing Trophy final, a competition contested for by all teams in the top flight of the National Basketball League, the Dragons travelled to Loughborough University to face current league leaders, Derby Trailblazers, in the final showdown. Despite putting in a good overall performance, the Dragons were unable to match Derby’s superiority, eventually succumbing to a fifteen point loss (74-89).

It was a sell-out crowd at Loughborough University’s Netball and Badminton centre, with a strong contingent of Bradford supporters making the trip to cheer on their side. The two sides had already met twice this season, in the earlier group stage of the KitKing Trophy, and in a league fixture at the Dragon’s Den.

On both previous occasions Derby had taken the wins, but confidence was high within the Dragons’ camp, going into Saturday’s game. As head coach, Chris Mellor says, “On our day we can beat anybody, there’s no doubt about it, we’ve got the talent. In any sport, in a one-off game, anything can happen.”

As the game tipped-off in Loughborough, Zion Zordoff (sponsored by Bubbles & Barks Dog Grooming) won the jump ball against Derby’s Raheem May-Thompson. However, American point guard Justin Williams (sponsored by the Ireland family) failed to land his first three point attempt, allowing Sam Masten to put the first points on the board, a lay-up, for Derby. On the next play, Bradford’s Ronald Blain (sponsored by Bliss Bakery Bakes and Positive Outcome Associates) sank a trey to give the Dragons their first lead of the game. This was then followed by an Albert Margai driving layup to put Bradford three points clear, sending their raucous supporters into an early frenzy.

As the opening quarter played out, the two sides matched one another basket for basket. That was until the final two-and-a-half minutes, in which Bradford’s failure to add to their tally allowed their opponents to build up a six point advantage (18-24) to take into the first scheduled break in play.

Derby’s Jonas Dieterich got the second quarter underway with a two-point jump shot and although Blain then matched that with the same for Bradford, a further two from May-Thompson followed by a trey from Jase Harrison extended Derby’s lead to eleven points (20-31).

With just over half of the period played, Jordan Whelan (sponsored by Napoleon’s Casino & Restaurant, Bradford) successfully converted a two point layup. This was then followed by a trey from Joe Buchanan (sponsored by Meryl Valentine) which reduced the gap to just three points (33-36). But once again the Dragons then suffered a two-and-a-half-minutes points drought, allowing the Trailblazers to pull their advantage back to twelve (33-45).

Buchanan finally broke the barren spell with another trey and although the Dragons sparred, blow for blow, in the final stages of the half, it was Derby that took an eleven-point lead (39-50) back to the locker rooms at half time.

One thing we have learned this season is to never write the Dragons off, as they have regularly fought back in the second half of games to overcome such deficits as they were faced with here. However, it was Derby that came out firing in the third quarter, adding a further five points to their tally before Bradford got going. Blain and Tordoff pulled it back to a twelve-point gap, but then a couple of treys from Masten opened it back to eighteen (43-61).

The two sides continued to trade baskets, but a buzzer beating two-pointer by Derby’s Malcolm Smith gave Derby a twenty-point advantage (55-75) at the end of the penultimate quarter. It seemed that the game had slipped out of reach for the Dragons.

To add to the pain, Rob Marsden hit an early two for Derby in the fourth quarter, extending their lead to twenty-two. But, as we have learned, you can never write the Dragons off.

Williams sank a two, followed by the same from Blain. Next it was Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Gio’s Italian Bar and Kitchen) with a two-point lay-up. Blain added a three, as did Buchanan, followed by another Sulcs lay-up. And whilst all this was going on Derby failed to add a single point to the board. May-Thompson broke their drought with a two, but this was followed by another trey from Buchanan. Remarkably, the gap was now down to just seven points (72-79) and, with more than five minutes still on the clock, the Bradford supporters dared to dream once again.

But, that was to be as close as Bradford would get, adding only a further two points to their tally and ultimately falling to a fifteen point defeat (74-89).

Ronald Blain top scored for the Dragons with 21 points, followed by Joe Buchanan (15 points) and Albert Margai (12 points). Defensively, Zion Tordoff led the line, collecting a total of thirteen rebounds.

At the other end, Jonas Dieterich hit a game high 25 points, whilst his teammate, Sam Masten picked up the Most Valuable Player Award, with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Malcolm Smith also hit double figures for Derby with 14 points.

Reflecting on the game, Chris Mellor commented, “We dug ourselves a 20-point hole and we got ourselves out of it to seven points with five minutes to go.”

“But credit to them, they shot the ball better than us, thirteen from twenty-three from three-point range compared to our thirteen from forty. We’re a three-point shooting team but forty is too many for us. Their defence forced us into it but we should have played more on the inside.”

“I’m really proud of what we achieved in the Trophy – hopefully we can now get to the play-off final.”

The Dragons now face a gruelling league double-header weekend with games at Barking Abbey on Saturday (4pm) and Nottingham Hoods on Sunday (3pm). Bradford will be hoping to secure their berth in the end of season-playoffs over the course of these two games.

Photographs © Peter Simmons

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