D1: Trailblazers survive late scare to win thriller against Bradford
Derby Trailblazers 83 (23, 41, 61)
Bradford Dragons 82 (19, 33, 56)
After twice leading by fifteen points early in the game, Derby Trailblazers had to stave off a dramatic Bradford fight back to get their NBL division one league season off to a winning start.
The large and vocal crowd at the Clarence Wiggins Sports Centre was therefore treated to a thrilling finale, with Derby eventually completing an 83-82 home win, to the delight of Head Coach Matt Shaw:
“What a start to the league season that was, although I’m not sure we can take too many games being as close as that one turned out to be,” he enthused.
The Trailblazers had got off to a brilliant start, with Oli Stanley winning the jump ball and Rema Lascelles immediately feeding the ball to a rampaging Josh Ward-Hibbert, who slam dunked it home for the opening two points after less than five seconds.
Ward-Hibbert was on his way to a 25 point / 10 rebound double-double, while Lascelles had just produced the first of ten assists. He went on to fall agonisingly short of a triple-double, adding 14 points, nine rebounds and six steals to an impressive stat line.
Stanley contributed a perfect six from six from the floor on his way to fifteen points, while Bradford were led by Marcus Gooding’s haul of 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Ricky Fetske and Rihard Sulcs both added 18 for the visitors.
It was Sulcs who was largely responsible for clawing Bradford back into contention late in the game. The Latvian forward hit five straight points early in the final quarter, cutting the gap to just two points, before a three-pointer from Fetske put the Dragons 65-66 ahead with 7’19” remaining.
It was their first lead since the ninth minute and suddenly it was game on, as Derby found themselves battling to avoid defeat in a game they should have won far more comfortably.
Sulcs then added another two points and one of two at the line to make it a four point lead, before an exchange of baskets followed.
Chris Taylor made it 72-73 by sinking a three-pointer with 5’05” on the clock. After further scores for both sides, Derby finally got back in front, after consecutive baskets from Lascelles and Stanley made it 76-75 with 2’45” left.
Fetske restored Bradford’s lead with a pair of free throws, before Lascelles completed a three-point play to make it 79-77.
A jump shot from Josh Ward-Hibbert extended Derby’s lead to four points, before Gooding sank two of two from the line, only for Ward-Hibbert to reply in kind.
With seventeen seconds remaining, Bradford called their final time-out and it resulted in a big three-pointer from Fetske, which took the score to 83-82.
That was the cue for Derby’s last time-out. They knew they didn’t need to score, but they did need to protect the ball well and deny Bradford the opportunity of stopping the clock and sending them to the line.
Tight, accurate ball movement followed, as Derby whittled away the final few seconds and secured the win they deserved, but had almost let slip away:
“I was pleased with large parts of our performance,” said Head Coach Matt Shaw.
“I have to keep reminding myself how young our group is, probably the youngest team in the league. With that in mind it was great to re-group and pull through after they took the lead with a few minutes to play.
“Obviously Rema had his best game since his return, pulling the strings and making a lot happen. That's the sort of leadership we need. But I thought it was a big team performance with a lot of guys making different types of contributions.
“It's useful to get of to a good start in the league, its going to be a tough season with a lot of good teams, so any win is a good one.
“Bradford are well coached and always play with a lot of heart. They made life very difficult for us especially in the second half. It was one of those games that could have gone either way, I'm glad the clock stopped with us ahead,” he said.
Earlier, Derby had looked more fluid on offence than they had showed in their opening pair of Men’s Trophy pool matches. Lascelles and Ward-Hibbert dominated from the off, with the pair seemingly scoring at will.
That allowed the Blazers to open up a 10-6 lead, before nine unanswered points gave Bradford their biggest lead of the night at 10-15, with 3’27” of the first quarter remaining.
Derby responded with an 8-0 burst of their own, before baskets from Sulcs and Rafi Sape put the visitors back in front by one.
However, a rare three-pointer from Kayne King and a long buzzer beating two from just inside the corner from Adria Amabilino Perez gave Derby a 23-19 first quarter advantage.
The Trailblazers then dominated the early stages of the second, putting up eleven unanswered points to lead 34-19. Among the highlights was a spectacular dunk from Brian Amabilino Perez and a coast to coast drive at thunderous speed from Ward-Hibbert.
Fetske eventually stopped the Dragons rot with a lay-up, but it had taken almost six minutes to find that opening score. Once off the mark, they rallied to close the half trailing 41-33.
The third quarter followed a similar pattern, with Derby opening up a fifteen point lead for the second time in the contest, as a lay-up from Stanley took the score to 52-37.
However, Bradford took advantage of Trailblazers mistakes and poor shot selection to gradually cut the gap. It was down to just three points before Lascelles ended the third quarter with a lay-up to make it 61-56.
Derby extended their advantage to seven points early in the final quarter, before Sulcs took over for Bradford. He almost snatched the win for his side, but the Trailblazers just managed to get over the line, leaving Coach Shaw in a reflective mood:
“We still have a lot of room for improvement and as coaches, that's exciting position to be in at this early stage of the season,” he said.
Derby: Ward-Hibbert 25, Stanley 15, Lascelles 14, Taylor 9, A. Amabilino Perez 7, B. Amabilino Perez 7, Morrison 3, King 3, Silva 0.
Dragons: Gooding 23, Fetske 18, Sulcs 18, Saipe 11, Laing 6, Levazeux 4, J. Swaine 2, Camille 0, Donaldson 0, E. Swaine DNP, Dedgratias DNP.
Here are the full results from the weekend:
D1 Men: Derby Trailblazers 83-82 Bradford Dragons
U18M Prem: City of Birmingham 69-104 Derby Trailblazers
U14 Boys (M1): Derby Trailblazers 58-41 Mansfield Giants
U14 Girls: Derby Trailblazers 38-61 Nottingham Wildcats
D4 Men (Mids): Northants Tauras 93-88 Derby Trailblazers (II)
U18 Men Cup R2: Leicester Warriors 59-95 Derby Trailblazers
U18 Men (Conf): Derby Trailblazers (II) 82-71 Northants Thunder
U16 Boys Cup R2: Cheshire Wire 115-21 Derby Trailblazers
U16 Girls Cup R1: Derby Trailblazers 20-0 Stockport Lapwings (forfeited by Stockport)
Game photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derbytrailblazersbasketball/albums