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Liberty falls in new home opener

NEWARK, N.J. -- Cappie Pondexter is more comfortable with a basketball than a microphone in her hand, but the New York point guard had to take a moment to introduce the crowd to the Liberty's new home court.

"Thank you for coming all the way out here," she told the fans at the Prudential Center in downtown Newark. "Let's rock this out this summer."

With that, Pondexter began Saturday's home season opener for the Liberty, played here in the Prudential Center instead of Madison Square Garden because of renovations. But Indiana crashed the welcoming party, beating the Liberty, 86-80, in front of 7,835.

New York (2-1) held a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter but the Fever crept back, eventually tying it early in the fourth and getting a clutch 3-pointer by Jeanette Pohlen to put them up by four with 32.8 seconds remaining. Indiana outscored New York 24-10 in the fourth quarter.

"We lost our energy and our focus," Pondexter said. "If anything, this being our home opener we should've had more energy coming down the stretch."

The Liberty beat Indiana, 81-80, in Indianapolis on Friday night, then both teams flew into Newark early the next morning. Coach John Whisenant said the whirlwind travel could have factored into some late-game fatigue.

"I don't like it," Whisenant said. "But there are no excuses."

Not surprisingly, it was the Rutgers alumna duo of Essence Carson and Pondexter that led the way in New Jersey for the Liberty in the losing effort. Carson finished with a game-high 23 points while Pondexter added 13 points and four assists.

It didn't take long for the Liberty to get comfortable in their new venue. They hit nine of their first 10 shots, jumped out to a 24-22 lead and held a 49-45 advantage at halftime thanks to 51.5 percent shooting.

That lead would balloon to 14 points in the third quarter thanks to a 17-7 run, but the Fever came back to tie it early in the fourth as New York's offense began to sputter.

With 6:45 remaining, Indiana tied it on Briann January's lay-in, completing a 20-6 run. The Liberty shot just 5-for-19 from the field in the fourth quarter.

"We feed off our defense," Whisenant said. "It seems when we get tired defensively, we stand around offensively."

Since they will be in Newark for the next three seasons, the Liberty began the process of making the Prudential Center as homey as possible. Many fans showed up early to celebrate the team's 15th season even though it won't be playing in Manhattan. The court was painted the Liberty's teal and blue even though the seats behind it featured the New Jersey Devils insignia.

And Saturday's opener had all the expected pregame extravagance, and maybe a few things -- like throngs of motivational dancers, a disc jockey and a giant disco ball at center court -- that were unexpected. The game just didn't end well.

New York Sports