Liberty Fall Short in Home OpenerMay 20, 2012
NEW YORK - Every time momentum swung in the New York Liberty's favor, the Connecticut Sun matched it, refusing to let their opponents run away with the game. New York led by as many as eight in the second half, but mental lapses in the fourth quarter resulted in a 78-73 loss Saturday afternoon in the season opener at Madison Square Garden.
“My team battled and I was proud of the fact we did,” Liberty head coach John Whisenant said. “I want to give Connecticut credit. I thought we could get them here, but we just hit dry spells where we weren’t efficient as we must be to win in this league.”
Playing in front of an announced crowd of 8112 fans, the Liberty got to have a one-game homecoming by playing this game at the Garden. New York currently plays their games at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ due to the Garden transformation. But because of an NHL Playoff game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers, the team was temporarily sent back across the Hudson River for one game.
“It was great,” said Essence Carson. “It’s really nice. I love the atmosphere and the fans came out to support. That’s exactly what we want. That’s what we love.”
The Liberty returned with an almost identical starting core, the only difference being Kara Braxton taking over Kia Vaughn’s starting spot from last season. Braxton, along with Cappie Pondexter and Plenette Pierson, all finished in double figures, led by Pondexter’s 19 points and five rebounds. Pierson logged a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Braxton had 13 points and nine rebounds.
New York held a seven point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but failed to maintain their intensity as the Sun nipped at their heels for the duration of the period. In a quarter that saw six ties and three lead changes, the pivotal moment of the game was a fadeaway jumper from the Sun’s Asjha Jones that tied the game at 71 with 1:57 left to play. Another jumper by Jones in the final minute put the Sun ahead by two.
With 19.9 seconds left, the Liberty attempted to tie the game but Pondexter missed on a driving layup. When the Sun extended the lead to three with 15.1 to go, New York had one more opportunity to tie. But Liberty guard Leilani Mitchell committed an offensive foul, allowing the Sun to regain possession and seal the win.
The Sun had five players finish in double figures, led by Tina Charles’ 19 points and 13 rebounds. Allison Hightower netted 13, while Jones recorded 13 points and 8 rebounds. Renee Montgomery and Danielle McCray notched 11 and 10 points respectively.
“It was a tough one because we had it and it’s hard to win games when you’re not scoring in the fourth quarter or getting stops,” Pondexter said. “We had a couple of breakdowns and we let them score anything.”
Despite the loss, Pondexter remained confident the team’s play will improve as time passes. It wasn’t until this past Tuesday that the team finally had its full roster in training camp, and the players themselves are still in the process of getting acclimated to playing with each other again.
“That’s always the tough part,” Pondexter said. “Coach put in a new offense and we haven’t had everybody here, so it’s hard to get acclimated. We still look good but we’re not good enough to win obviously. This year I really want to focus on what we can improve on as a team. It’s still early, so we obviously have a lot to work on.”
The Liberty will now head to Connecticut to finish the home-and-home with the Sun on Sunday, May 20 at 5PM.