Bradford Dragons returned to action, following a four-week break, on Saturday evening with the visit of Loughborough Riders to the Dragons’ Den, at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre.

In an all too familiar pattern of play for them this season in Division One of the National Basketball League, Bradford went behind by 15 points during the first half of the game, turned it around and took the lead in a strong third quarter, but then failed to carry the momentum through to the final buzzer.

On this occasion against Loughborough, that meant they fell to a narrow 87-82 defeat.

The two sides had had contrasting first halves of the season, with Loughborough sat comfortably in sixth in the Division One table, with the impressive top seven looking likely to make the play-offs with games to spare.

But Bradford had only won four times in the league so far, and were holding on to eighth position, the final play-off spot, by the skin of their teeth.

However, bolstered by the addition of American forward Ronald Blain to their roster, the Dragons remain confident that they can improve on their league standing during the second half of the campaign.

The first chance to do that came against Loughborough, and a Blain trey gave Bradford an early 5-4 lead.

It remained a tight affair during the opening four minutes, but gradually Loughborough found their rhythm and built up a 12-point lead.

A driving lay up by the Dragons star Justin Williams reduced the deficit to 28-18 just before the buzzer brought the first quarter to an end.

The Riders continued to dominate throughout most of the second period, increasing their advantage to 15 points in no time at all.

Bradford fought hard though, and with just over a half of the quarter played, they had pulled back to just 39-32 behind.

However, two minutes later, the difference was back up to 15 points following another unanswered burst by the visiting side.

Blain then hit a two for Bradford, which was quickly followed up by a trey from Andreas Lycoudis, his first since returning from his agonising two and a half season lay-off through injury.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: It was great to see Andreas Lycoudis (7) back in action for Bradford, having not played since 2021.It was great to see Andreas Lycoudis (7) back in action for Bradford, having not played since 2021. (Image: Alex Daniel.)

When the teams returned to their locker rooms at half-time, the Dragons had managed to get the gap back into single figures, with Loughborough holding a 51-42 advantage.

After the break, it was a completely different story in the third quarter with early scores from Blain, Williams and Joe Buchanan levelling the contest within two minutes of the restart.

The visitors edged back in front before Zion Tordoff hit a trey to give Bradford their first lead since the opening period of the game.

The Dragons were in the ascendancy and, with under three minutes of the penultimate period to play, a two-point lay-up from Rihards Sulcs put the home side 69-63 ahead.

However, Loughborough hit back well and levelled the scores going into the 10 minutes at 71-71.

The next five minutes saw the two sides battle it out almost shot for shot, but as fatigue started to set in, it was Loughborough who held their nerve, gradually opening up a five-point lead.

Despite Williams and Sulcs pulling the home side back to within a single point, Bradford were left chasing the game and as time ran out, they were forced into giving away fouls, sending the Riders to the line.

The final buzzer sounded to herald another defeat for the Dragons and a win for Loughborough which moved them up to fifth in the league standings.

The big positive for Bradford, who remain inside the play-offs on points difference, was a Player of the Game performance from their new signing, Ronald Blain.

He registered a game-high 23 points along with seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.

Rihards Sulcs and Joe Buchanan both contributed 15 points each to the Dragons tally, with Justin Williams adding a further 13 points.

The Dragons travel to Uxbridge this coming weekend, where they will face the Thames Valley Cavaliers, who currently sit two points and three places below them in the league standings.

However, the Cavaliers did beat the Dragons on the opening day of the season, so Chris Mellor will be looking for his side to exact revenge this time around.

The following weekend, Bradford are back on their home court for the visit of high-flying Reading Rockets on Saturday, January 27, with tip off in the Dragons’ Den at 6:15pm.

Tickets for this game are now on sale via the Dragons' website, with a 20 per cent early bird discount available until midnight on Friday, January 26.