New York, NY — Dominating.
If you had to choose a word to describe Tina Charles of the New York Liberty, that would be the word.
With 12 points in the second quarter, Charles showed why she’s the leading candidate for the WNBA MVP, as she helped lead the Liberty (21-10) to an 89-82 victory over the Connecticut Sun (11-19).
For Charles and the Liberty (who have already locked up the #3 seed in the playoffs), this win was extra important, due to the fact they only have eight healthy players on the roster, including Epiphanny Prince, who is still recovering from an ACL tear she suffered in November.
“We need these wins, but we have to play better. We have to hold each other accountable, and we have to hold our own load,” Charles said. “We’re down to eight players right now, but we still need to get better collectively.”
The beginning of the game couldn’t have gone any better for the Liberty. Rebecca Allen, Charles and Carolyn Swords got New York up to a quick 6-0 start before Connecticut’s Jasmine Little cut down the lead with an icy three-pointer for the Sun’s first points of the game. At one point in the first, the Liberty had a 12-3 lead.
Then Connecticut began to heat up. A couple of free throws from Chiney Ogwumike jump-started the scoring movement for the Sun. Thomas followed with five consecutive points, and Camille Little and Jonquel Jones finished the spree for Connecticut, who finished the first quarter only down by two, 19-17.
In the second quarter, New York got some early assistance from their bench. Amanda Zahui B. got her first points of the game in the beginning to give the Liberty a 21-17 lead, but Connecticut was determined to erase that lead. A three from Shekinna Stricklen followed by a Courtney Williams three-pointer gave the Sun their first lead of the game (24-23).
Out of nowhere, New York had an ‘Epiphanny’: Epiphanny Prince, that is.
After Prince came off the bench, the Liberty started getting more of a flow, as she scored seven points in the quarter. And once Prince got started, it gave room for Charles to take off, scoring basically at will. With her 17-point first half, New York went into halftime with a 44-38 lead.
Coming out of halftime, the Sun walked back onto the court like they were a team hungry to get into the playoffs. Chiney Ogwumike and Jasmine Little took over a majority of the scoring responsibility in the quarter, trading off baskets like it was a game of H.O.R.S.E.
New York’s defense for a while didn’t look like it had an answer, until Sugar Rodgers exploded for 10 points in the quarter to keep the Liberty up 65-60 going into the final quarter.
The final frame may have been the most action-packed. An early scoring spree from Amanda Zahui B, Carolyn Swords and Rodgers helped put the Liberty back in a double-digit lead, 73-62.
However, it didn’t stop the Sun from being competitive. Ogwumike, Thomas and Jonquel Jones did a lot of heavy lifting for Connecticut, getting within two points (78-76) with 4:30 left to go.
It was there that New York decided they were taking this game. Prince, Swords, Brittany Boyd and Swin Cash put the Liberty up 87-77 with 2:22 left to go, and Boyd put the nail in the coffin with two free throws to seal the deal for the Liberty.
Charles finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, her 18th double-double of the season. Rodgers finished with 18 points off the bench, and Prince added 13 of her own. Connecticut had four players in double-figure points despite the loss, led by 20 a piece for Ogwumike and Williams.
For the Liberty, they will face Dallas on Sunday in a game that is still a must-win for them, if just to keep the momentum up. Connecticut is currently a full game now behind the Washington Mystics, and will need wins in at least three of their next four games to stand a chance.