BRADFORD Dragons clinched a narrow 74-73 away win over the seventh-seeded Essex Rebels in the first round of the National Basketball League Division One play-offs on Sunday afternoon.

The Dragons fought hard all game long and rightfully claimed their place in the second round after edging a nervy final quarter.

A clutch Andreas Lycoudis three with less than 50 seconds left proved to be the game-winning moment, as the Dragons shut out the Rebels down the stretch.

In a high-scoring first quarter of play, it was the 11th-seeded visitors who came out of the blocks fastest, breaking into an early 7-1 lead, with buckets from Rihards Šulcs and Tyme Regent-Bascombe.

The Rebels responded well, with a 12-0 run helping to put them 27-25 in front at the end of the first quarter.

After a high-octane opening quarter, the scoring slowed down in the second period as both teams began to lock in defensively.

The visitors trailed 35-34 with a few minutes to go, but Bradford closed the half on an 8-4 run as Jermayne Laing scored all eight points.

At half-time, the Dragons led 42-39, and early in the third quarter, a Šulcs three-point play handed them a game-high six-point lead.

But a strong Essex response followed, and the game was tied at 58-58 heading into the final 10 minutes.

With the season on the line, the fourth quarter turned into a period for the defensive purists.

In a low-scoring quarter, buckets were hard to come by, and though Essex edged 73-71 in front with less than two minutes to play, they missed several good free throw chances to increase that advantage.

Then came the game-winning moment for Bradford. Having missed several good looks in the second half, Lycoudis kept a shooter’s mentality and nailed the three that mattered most.

The Rebels had a couple of half-chances to steal the win in the final 45 seconds, but with star man Lee Hodges fouled out, they were unable to take them, and the Dragons bench erupted in celebration on the buzzer.

Veterans Laing and Šulcs came to the fore, with both scoring 16 points in the nailbiting victory.

Coach Chris Mellor said: “Our defensive intensity and overall commitment at that end of the floor was good. It could have gone either way at the end, but thankfully the ball rolled in our favour on the final possession.”

Lycoudis added: “Nobody expected us to win for some reason, including Essex, but we showed we can compete with any team in the league.

“It was a gutsy team performance with everyone doing what they could to help us win. In the end, experience and our commitment to defence won us the game.”

Next up for the Dragons is a trip to face the number three-seeded team, Hemel Storm, in the second round of the play-offs this Saturday, with tip-off at 5pm.