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Liberty lose opener to Indiana Fever

China National Team center Li Yueru (14) defends

China National Team center Li Yueru (14) defends Liberty center Tina Charles (31) during the first half of a WNBA exhibition game in Brooklyn on May 9. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — It seemed like so long ago that the Liberty actually won a game that counted.

They won their preseason opener, but the Liberty hadn’t claimed a regular-season game since July 15 of last year. They closed the worst season in franchise history with the worst losing streak in franchise history, dropping the final 13 games.

Next season arrived Friday night at Westchester County Center, and Tina Charles sank two free throws with seven seconds left to give the Liberty a one-point lead — but Teaira McCowan’s buzzer-beating layup gave the Indiana Fever an 81-80 victory.

“Lot of good things,” coach Katie Smith said. “To fight that hard and come up short, it’s tough . . . Just came up about a half a second short.”

Charles was a force with 32 points and 12 rebounds. Despite 14 consecutive losses, the Liberty are looking at it as just one loss to start a new season that followed a 7-27 year.

“Our team is quite different,” Smith said. “We’ve never talked about that number. It’s not a point at all.”

The Liberty’s Rebecca Allen hit a three-pointer to tie it at 78 with 2:36 left, but she fouled Tiffany Mitchell (22 points), who went 1-for-2 from the line at the 2:16 mark to give the Fever the lead.

The Liberty missed four shots to try to retake the lead, and it still was 79-78 after the Fever’s Betnijah Laney missed two free throws with 13.6 seconds left. Bria Hartley grabbed the rebound and the Liberty called a timeout. Amanda Zahui B missed a jumper, but Erica Wheeler was called for a loose-ball foul against Charles with seven seconds left. With Indiana over the limit, Charles made the first to tie it and the second for an 80-79 lead.

After the Fever called time, Candice Dupree fed McCowan, the third overall pick, for the winning layup. She had 11 points in her debut. The officials checked the replay, but the shot counted and the Liberty had lost again.

“Great players make great plays,” said Asia Durr, the second overall pick, who scored eight points in her Liberty debut.

“Just hold your heads up high,” Charles said.

Indiana, which scored 15 points off 16 Liberty turnovers, went on a 9-2 run in the third quarter and opened a 54-42 lead on a jumper by Mitchell.

The Liberty went on an 11-0 run, part of an 18-2 burst to close the quarter that gave them a 60-56 advantage. They extended it to seven early in the fourth, but it didn’t end well.

“It’s a long road ahead,” Durr said. “We’ll be all right.”

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