BRADFORD Dragons battled resiliently but ultimately succumbed to an 81-69 away defeat against Hemel Storm on Saturday evening.

The Dragons matched the third-seeded Storm for large stretches, but a disappointing third quarter left Chris Mellor’s team with too much to do in the end.

Winning back-to-back away knockout games was always going to be a tough ask, and so the Dragons’ 2020-21 National Basketball League Division One campaign ends at the second-round stage of the play-offs.

Full of confidence after the previous weekend’s win over Essex Rebels, Bradford travelled to Hertfordshire looking to spring another play-off upset against the 14-5 Storm, who dominated Nottingham Hoods 101-68 in their first-round match-up.

A low-scoring opening quarter set the scene for a gritty game, as both teams worked their way into it.

The hosts broke into an early 8-2 lead, but the Dragons soon snuffed out the deficit to open up a narrow 12-10 advantage.

Dave Walsh knocked in the first of his seven threes in the game, and at the end of the first period, the game was all tied up at 17-17.

The hosts fired off a 14-2 run to blow the game wide open at the start of the second quarter, but Walsh rattled off nine straight points, all from the three-point line, before a 9-4 run from the visitors tied the game at 37-37 heading into half-time.

But the Dragons started the second half flat and were punished by a potent Storm offence.

The hosts went on an 11-0 run to establish a sizeable lead, and despite Rihards Šulcs stopping the rot with a timely three, Bradford were starting to look stagnant on offence.

The hosts led by as many as 15 in a dominant third quarter, which left the Dragons trailing 62-50 heading into the fourth.

Outscoring the Dragons 25-13 in the third, the Storm had all the momentum, with both teams’ season on the line.

The opening minutes of the final quarter saw both teams trade buckets, with the visitors calling a timeout after going 14 points down.

With just over six minutes left, it was win or go home time, and the Dragons rose to the challenge out of the timeout.

Four straight points from Great Osobor, and another Walsh three, halved the Storm’s lead to 70-63.

But unfortunately for Bradford, that was as close as the game got.

With the visitors struggling offensively, the Storm took care of business and sealed their passage into the semi-finals.

Walsh led the Dragons in scoring with 24 points, while Šulcs added 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Coach Mellor said afterwards: “We were in good shape at the half with a tied game, but we started the third quarter badly and never really recovered.”