INDIANAPOLIS – The Fever came back from an 17-point first half deficit but were unable to secure the win as they fell to the Liberty, 82-76, Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Things were knotted at 61 early in the fourth before an Amanda Zahui B 3-pointer gave the Liberty a lead they did not relinquish. Things remained close, as Teaira McCowan’s free throws cut the New York lead to 74-70. However, New York shot 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the final minute to secure the win.
“You can’t give up 28 points in [the first] quarter,” said Fever head coach Pokey Chatman. “You give an entire squad that is hunting the same win that you are hunting that momentum.”
McCowan had a season-high 24 points, including 10-of-14 from the free throw line, to go along with eight rebounds for the Fever.
“Teaira McCowan changes the game,” said Chatman. “Throw to her, play through her, and play off of her. There’s a reason two of their post players were in foul trouble. There’s a reason Candice [Dupree] got open shots. So, when we get there, don’t have four to six possessions where she doesn’t touch it.”
Natalie Achonwa had 11 points and seven rebounds. Kennedy Burke came off the bench for 11 points on 5-for-9 from the field and three steals.
“Coach said the biggest thing for me is pressuring the ball,” said Burke. “I have to keep doing that and just move on to the next game.”
Charles paced the Liberty with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Kia Nurse scored 20, shooting 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Bria Hartley scored 16 for the visitors, including 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the final minutes of the game.
Charles and Nurse led the Liberty offense early on. The duo combined for 11 points early, giving New York a 13-7 lead midway through the first. New York blitzed the Fever over the final minutes of the opening period going on a 16-6 run, including 3-pointers from Nurse, Marine Johannes, and Zahui B. The run gave the Liberty a 28-13 lead to end the first.
After falling behind by 17 in the first, the Fever looked to make up ground in the second. Wheeler scored five straight points for Indiana to cut the New York lead to 33-22.
A pair of Fever rookies in Burke and McCowan continued to chip away at the deficit, the duo scored eight straight points to trim the deficit to single digits, 43-35. Tiffany Mitchell hit a pair of free throws just before the half to cut the deficit to six, 43-37.
“I just knew I had to come out aggressive,” said McCowan. “I knew my teammates were going to find me and look to get it into me. I knew I had to get the foul, score, or both.”
Charles was the driving force for the Liberty in the early stages of the game. The veteran center scored 21 points on 9-for-15 from the field in the first half.
Nurse scored the first four points of the half to extend the New York lead back to double digits, 47-37. A pair of jumpers by Dupree and a layup by Mitchell made it a two-possession game, 47-43.
Wheeler dished her fifth assist of the game early in the third, giving her 144 assists on the season. The total eclipsed the previous Fever single season franchise assist record of 143 (set by Tamika Catchings during 2005 season).
Achonwa and McCowan each scored in the paint in the final seconds of the third to cut the Liberty lead to just two, 61-59, to end the frame.
Achonwa’s free throws knotted things at 61 to start the fourth, but the Fever will unable to seize the lead as they dropped their second straight game.
After a huge first half, Indiana held Charles to two points on 1-for-10 from the field in the second half.
The Fever now travel to Los Angeles for a matchup with the Sparks on Thursday.