DESPITE a poor first-half, Bradford Dragons turned things around to beat visitors Loughborough Student Riders 80-77 in their opening National Basketball League Division One fixture of the season.

Last season, despite being newcomers to the top flight, the Riders finished a very respectable fifth, two places above the Dragons, despite them doing the double over the Midlanders.

The 2016-17 play-off finalists set the early pace, going 7-0 up, and Jermaine Laing was the Dragons’ main threat in a lacklustre half, which ended with the students leading 16-12.

In the second quarter, the hosts struggled to contain the Riders attack, with the visitors going 35-20 in front before a flurry of points from Rihards Sulcs and Rafi Saipe pulled the gap back to 42-34.

That became 12 points at 48-36 before Bradford finally found some rhythm, with 11 straight points, and they levelled at 53-53 thanks to Marcus Gooding’s free-throws.

The Dragons’ other American, Ricky Fetske, finally put them in front with a three-pointer, and further scores from Eisley Swaine and new signings Oliver Hylands and Joaquin Calvo gave Bradford a 62-61 lead before the final period.

Hylands had extended Bradford’s advantage to three within seven seconds but with five minutes the visitors were again in front at 71-66.

However, up stepped Saipe, who bucketed a succession of three-point shots to put the Dragons back in front.

With 19 seconds left, Loughborough’s Dan Hemmingway tipped the ball home to put them only a point adrift at 78-77, but, almost immediately, Fetske secured the win with a trademark slam-dunk.

Saipe, who also picked up the inaugural Taco Bell Player of the Game, top-scored for the Dragons with 20 points.

Sulcs recorded yet another double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds, as did Fetske (16 points, 13 rebounds).

Dragons’ head coach Chris Mellor said of the Riders: “They came out far more aggressively and with much more intensity than we did and we really struggled to contain their speed and transition.

“To only go in down eight 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.”

On Saturday, the Dragons make the long trip to Barking Abbey to face Kent Crusaders, who have returned to Division One following promotion.

This will be followed by a National Cup third-round fixture at Third Division WLV Albion (Wolverhampton) on Sunday afternoon.

Bradford Dragons under-14s opened their account in the National Basketball League Northern Division with an 87-47 victory against City of Leeds.