BRADFORD Dragons were eventually outlasted by Worthing Thunder in the Dragons’ Den on Saturday evening, the opening game of 2023 for both sides.

In a closely-fought National Basketball League Division One contest, the South Coast side proved too strong in the final quarter, and returned home with the points, following an 83-75 victory.

Worthing had led the table for the majority of the season but two defeats just before the Christmas break had seen them slip down to third, behind second-placed Derby Trailblazers and leaders Hemel Storm, with the latter holding the only remaining unbeaten record.

The Dragons, who dropped to seventh with this defeat, started the game strongly, with Micah Savery-Richards winning the tip-off and Dave Walsh scoring a three-pointer within seconds of the start.

Only three minutes into the game, the home side had already opened up a healthy advantage, Jordan Whelan adding seven points to Walsh’s opening score.

Worthing hit back to get within three points of Bradford, but the hosts always had more in the tank and when Jacques Misambu sank his layup, with only 58 seconds of the opening period remaining, the Dragons’ lead was up to double figures at 22-12.

Three seconds later, Worthing converted two shots from the foul line to end the quarter eight points behind.

Within 30 seconds of the restart, Worthing had reduced the deficit to just four points, triggering a Bradford response, with scores from Whelan and Justin Williams pulling them back out to nine points clear.

Gradually, the South Coast side fought their way back into the contest and, with just over three minutes to half-time, the score was tied for the first time at 32-32.

Crucially, the next score went the visitors’ way, a long range trey, and although the Dragons fought hard to recover, it was Worthing that led 37-36 when the two sides returned to the locker rooms at half-time.

Into the third quarter, and the two sides initially sparred with one another, almost point for point, with the lead swapping sides with swift regularity.

However, halfway through that penultimate period, the Dragons clicked into gear and built up a seven-point lead.

With plenty of the quarter remaining, there was still time for a Worthing revival and they gradually closed the gap, leaving their hosts with a single point lead to take into the final quarter at 63-62.

It was that final quarter which proved to be the Dragons’ undoing.

A side that had been full of energy and bounce suddenly appeared to lack movement and it did not take long for Worthing to put themselves firmly in the driving seat.

Their lightning start caught Bradford cold, with the visitors opening up a six-point lead within the opening two and a half minutes.

The Dragons kept themselves in the game, with Whelan putting up the next five points.

But every time the home side closed the gap, the visitors seemed to have more in the tank and did just enough to keep the Dragons at arm’s length.

Ultimately, it was them who held an eight-point lead at the final buzzer, putting themselves back up to second ahead of Derby on points difference.

The game high score went the way of Bradford’s Whelan, who contributed 32 points, almost half of Bradford’s overall total.

Whelan also registered 14 rebounds to record a double-double and was a clear choice for the Calderdale College Player of the Game Award.

American point-guard Justin Williams added 18 points to the Dragons’ total and Micah Savery-Richards also scored double figures with 11 points.

The Dragons next face another tough home fixture tomorrow, this time against the unbeaten leaders Hemel Storm, with a 6:15pm tip-off.

Tickets can be purchased in advance via the club’s website.