Bradford Dragons made the long road trip to Colchester to face one of the top two teams in Division One of the National Basketball League, the Essex Rebels, on Saturday. 

Failing to really get themselves going in the first half, the Dragons gave themselves too much to do late on, eventually losing the game by 18 points, going down 96-78.

Essex have been one of the most improved sides this season.

They have gone from finishing 11th in the table in the previous campaign, to currently sitting joint top in the league standings this time around, with 13 wins and just two defeats.

Bradford went into the game seventh in the standings, the penultimate play-off spot, and were coming off the back of three straight wins, the most recent of which being a thrilling 74-72 success the previous weekend at City of Birmingham Rockets.

The first four points of the game went the way of the hosts, but Jordan Whelan got Bradford’s first score with a single from the foul line.

However, as the opening quarter progressed, the Rebels gradually stretched their lead out to 15 points with just under 90 seconds remaining.

A trey by Joe Buchanan just before the buzzer helped Bradford, but they still ended the first quarter 28-16 behind

Straight from the restart, Bradford’s Ronald Blain made a two-point layup but was the visitors’ only score of the first four-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter, by which time the hosts had increased their advantage to 37-18.

Zion Tordoff sank a layup to finally break the Dragons’ deadlock and although Bradford picked up some momentum from there, they still couldn’t stop the Rebels from further extending their lead.

With a minute to play before the half-time interval, the gap was as high as 23 points, but with Blain picking up a further five points in that final 60 seconds, the deficit was reduced to 52-32 at the buzzer.

Dragons head coach Chris Mellor knew that his side needed to do way better in the second half if they were to salvage anything from the game. But when they fell 60-36 behind early in the third quarter, the situation looked hopeless.

Suddenly though, Bradford clicked into gear and started to work at reducing the deficit.

With less than two minutes of the period remaining the gap was down to just 11 points, before Essex extended their lead slightly, meaning the scoreboard stood at 71-57 in favour of the hosts at the end of the third quarter.  

Essex soon stretched their lead further to 19 points, before Buchanan registered the first two points of the final period for the Dragons.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Zion Tordoff chipped away well all afternoon, but the Dragons were always on the back foot against the Rebels.Zion Tordoff chipped away well all afternoon, but the Dragons were always on the back foot against the Rebels. (Image: Catarina Seixas.)

This was the start of an unanswered 12-point run by Bradford, and with five minutes of the game remaining they were just 76-69 behind.

Unfortunately, that was as close as the Dragons could get, and as the final minutes ran down, and with the foul count totting up for Bradford, Essex were able to quash any threat that the visitors may have posed.

As the final buzzer sounded, the travelling Bradford side were on the wrong end of that 96-78 scoreline.

Once again, the prolific Blain registered the game’s high score with 25 points, adding 10 rebounds for a double-double.

His Bradford team-mates Jordan Whelan and Justin Williams contributed 16 points and 13 points respectively.

It was also a good individual day for Zion Tordoff, who registered a double-double like Blain, with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

This weekend, the league action returns to the Inspire Centre at Calderdale College and the visit of London Elite.

This will be Elite’s first ever visit to the Dragons’ Den, as Bradford hope to get straight back to winning ways. Tip-off tomorrow is at 6:15pm and tickets can be booked in advance via the club website, which is linked here.

This fixture tomorrow will be preceded by the Yorkshire Cup final at 3pm, between Kings Basketball Club of Hull and the Bradford Maroons.

Entry to the cup final game is free, so fans can get a double dose of basketball action at the Inspire Centre this weekend.