INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Fever defeated the Connecticut Sun 81-79 in their home opener Saturday night to earn their first win of the season, and their first win under head coach Pokey Chatman.
Indiana had four players in double-figures, led by Candice Dupree with a season-high 19 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. She also grabbed six rebounds.
“Outside of the stats, it’s her presence that’s out there,” Chatman said. “She knows what to say, so people are listening, and sometimes it sounds better coming from a teammate who’s been there and won championships.”
The Sun were led by Jonquel Jones, who put up a double-double with 19 points and grabbed 12 boards before fouling out with 2:43 to play. All five Connecticut starters scored in double figures.
The Fever took an early 12-10 lead with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter and finished the period with a 28-22 advantage. The Sun took the lead with 1:34 to play in the first half, and took a 45-40 lead into the half.
The Fever went through a nearly eight-minute scoring drought in the second and third quarters, lasting from the 2:53 mark in the second quarter until Candice Dupree knocked down a 19-foot jumper with 5:03 to play in the third. The Sun led by as many as 11 points in the period.
The Fever tied it up with 1:39 to play with a pair of Shenise Johnson free throws, and then took their first lead of the half on a Johnson layup with 46 seconds to go. Johnson finished with 13 points, eight in the fourth quarter.
“It came out to heart and hustle,” Johnson said. “Connecticut hit some big shots as well, they got some key offensive rebounds, and I just thought we kept coming, we kept fighting, and we kept believing.”
The game went down to the wire, with a pair of Tiffany Mitchell free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining giving Indiana a three-point lead. Connecticut made a free throw of its own after a foul committed by Mitchell before their ensuing in-bounds pass, but couldn’t get a shot up before the buzzer. The Fever closed the game with a 29-19 advantage in the final period to get the win.
“We got some stops, and that helped us on offense, to get going,” Mitchell said.
Indiana earned the win despite being outrebounded 52-41 and being outshot, with the Sun shooting 48.4 percent from the field and the Fever shooting 42.4 percent.
A big part of the victory was the contributions the Fever got at the charity stripe. The team shot 28-29 at the line, a Fever record for most makes with only one miss.
“Down the stretch when they fouled us, we stepped to the line with confidence and we made it,” Erlana Larkins said. “Candice made a lot of free throws, myself I made some free throws, Bri made some free throws, Mo made some free throws, we just really made the free throws when it counted.”
Tiffany Mitchell scored 14 points off the bench, and is the only Fever player to score in double figures in all three games this season. The Fever outscored the Sun by 13 with Mitchell in the game, the best plus-minus mark on the team.
“I thought Tiffany Mitchell’s energy, her deflections, getting on the floor, at the end of the third quarter carried over and carried us into the fourth quarter,” Chatman said. “Even when she’s not scoring, she’s still contributing.”
Larkins had a season-high five steals as Indiana forced Connecticut into 18 turnovers, with the Fever scoring 21 points off turnovers. The Fever also had an advantage in bench points, with Indiana’s reserves outscoring Connecticut’s 30-11. Every Fever player that entered the game scored.