The two teams last met on the opening day of the league season, with Derby holding off the Dragons to clinch the victory by a single point. That was the first of many wins for the Trailblazers who, prior to last night’s fixture, held a tally of ten wins and only two defeats. Only last weekend, Derby recorded an important victory against league leaders Team Northumbria, leaving Bradford under no illusions regarding the size of the task facing them on Saturday.
With a number of teams queuing up to take the Dragons’ fifth spot in the league table, it was also a must win game for them particularly as they fell to defeat in London last weekend. However, it was Derby that opened the scoring, with their first assault on the basket and it wasn’t long before they had opened-up an eight-point lead. However, slowly but surely the home side clawed their way back into the game and by the time the buzzer signalled the end of the first quarter it was them that held a two-point advantage, 31-29, thanks in part to an incredible shooting performance from Rafi Saipe.
Throughout the second quarter, both teams matched one another shot-for-shot, with neither team being able to take a firm grip on the game. With the scores tied at 52-52, evergreen Jason Swaine, who celebrated his forty-second birthday earlier in the week, stepped up to the free throw line, sinking both shots to send the hosts back to the locker rooms ahead, 54-52.
The game followed a similar pattern throughout the penultimate quarter and with a little over four minutes of the period remaining it was Derby’s turn to take the lead, 67-69, from the free throw line. Jermayne Laing, who had brought his own fan club to the game, in the form of twenty-five children from Cliffe Hill Community Primary School, levelled the game with a two-point drop shot. The visitors immediately regained the lead, but Bradford wouldn’t let them pull away. With the game again tied at 77 apiece, Saipe bagged a three-point shot, to restore home advantage and Laing then dunked right at the death of the quarter, although the referees adjudged this to be after the buzzer sounded.
The final quarter started, therefore, with the hosts ahead by three points (80-77) and it looked as though the game was going to go right to the wire. However, with less than a minute played the gap had been opened right up to eleven points (88-77) as the game started to slip away from the visiting Trailblazers.
With 3:38 remaining on the clock, Derby called a timeout, with the Dragons leading by fourteen points 95-81, but there was nothing that they could do to stop Bradford from registering an important victory. As the final buzzer sounded, Bradford celebrated the win, 103-93.
Saipe registered 21 points, as did American power forward, Ricky Fetske, whilst both Rihards Sulcs and Jermayne Laing bagged 18 points each.
Dragons coach, Chris Mellor said, “It was a tight game throughout and I thought both teams played some good basketball. The run we got in the fourth quarter to open up a double figure lead was the difference really, where we managed to get some stops and convert at the other end. I was happy with the way we moved the ball and rebounded down the stretch.”
The Dragons travel to Lancashire Spinners next weekend in the first of a string of away fixtures. The action doesn’t return to the Dragons Den until February 18th when the visitors will be league leaders Team Northumbria.
In other news, Dragons under 16’s beat Durham Wildcats on Saturday by a convincing scoreline, 85-23 to further reinforce their position at the top of their table. Then on Sunday the under 18’s faced Sheffield Junior Sharks II, narrowly losing out 66-89 to their South Yorkshire rivals. Also on Sunday, the under 14’s travelled to Manchester Giants Green, travelling home with the points following a 51-68 victory.