Friday was “Pride Night” at Madison Square Garden and the New York Liberty were at full strength with the return of Epiphanny Prince and Via Vaughn. All the pieces were in place for a one night showcase stopover before heading out on another extended road trip.
Revenge was also being served this evening as they hosted the Connecticut Sun, who hit them for a 20-point loss nine days ago. However it would be the Sun who came out willing and the Liberty who revved up the engine too late to prevent a 94-89 loss.
When a lineup gets packed by emergency recruits that do better than expected, the return of the absentees will result in debits to the roster. Forward Cierra Burdick and guard Ameryst Alston could thank the early exit from the EuroBasket Women’s Tournament of Prince and Vaughn’s teams to their leaving the stage via waivers.
For three quarters these two would come out looking a step behind which contributed to the Sun coming out fast as all five starters finished with double digits led by Jasmine Thomas’ 23 points.
“They hit big shots. But we dug ourselves a hole with things like turnovers. That and second chance points,” Liberty center Kia Vaughn said, “Those are the things we can control so we have to pick it up.”
The 10,240 fans spelled out what was wanted this evening two minutes into the game with the score tied at three with the Sun in possession of the ball at the half court. They suddenly blurted out collectively “defense” long before the play started. The Liberty did not respond. They allowed drive after drive into the paint.
They allowed uncontested shots from the perimeter and even allowed the Sun (6-5) to win the battle of second chance points 21-4 though the overall rebound numbers were nearly even. Turnovers were a recurring issue.
“Giving up 28 points off of turnovers and giving them 21 points on the offensive rebounds was our undoing,” Liberty Head coach Bill Laimbeer said, “That’s what cost us the game.”
They never really took hold as the Liberty simply were not up to the task of using their size to derail the deer’s of Connecticut who ran anywhere they wanted and when one player Sugar Rodgers went all out to block a shot she ended up getting knocked out of the game wrapped with ice around her lower back and out of the contest as the Sun were fully in command by twenty-one after three.
The Liberty (7-5) failed to protect the ball and that offset a 53% shooting night. But pride finally kicked in late in the fourth as the Liberty, led by resurgent performances by Tina Charles, who finished with team-leading 20 points and 11 rebounds plus six assists and Shavonte Zellous who hit for 18 points and Epiphanny Prince who contributed 14 points got the Liberty even at 86 with 1:06 left. But the Sun held firm and pulled away.
“It’s really tough especially on your home court but Connecticut is really good now so kudos to them,” Charles said, “The little things we have to clean up.”
Bria Hartley, who scored 13 points for her second straight double digit night, took responsibility for the deep deficit the Liberty were forced to rally from.
The Liberty start a four-game road trip Thursday, June 29th at Washington.