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Marine Johannes, Liberty bench stymie Sparks to pick up home victory

Liberty guard Marine Johannes (L) handles the ball

Liberty guard Marine Johannes (L) handles the ball next to Los Angeles' Tierra Ruffin-Pratt during the Liberty's game against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 20, 2019 in the Westchester County Center in White Plains. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/JOHANNES EISELE

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Marine Johannes slashed down the lane, extended the ball high over her head and laid it softly into the basket. She was hitting her threes, too, right and left. 

The 24-year-old French import turned in quite a home debut for the Liberty Saturday at Westchester County Center. It was just Johannes’ third game overall since joining New York after playing in the EuroBasket tournament, and she hit every shot she took.

The Liberty snapped a three-game skid by holding off Los Angeles, 83-78, in large part because the WNBA rookie guard came off the bench and contributed a career-high 17 points. Johannes went 6-for-6 from the floor, including 4-for-4 on threes.

“It’s hard to arrive with a new team in the middle of the season,” said Johannes, a European pro since she was 18. “… It’s a new family. So I’m just happy and try to enjoy every minute.”

Katie Smith enjoyed the view.

“I expect her to be a threat, yes, to be able to knock down shots, to be able to space the floor, to be able to get out on the break,” the Liberty coach said. “Six-for-six, no.”

The Liberty improved to 8-10, surpassing their win total for all of last season.

They were without Asia Durr for the third straight game because of a groin injury. They also overcame 20 points and 12 rebounds from Nneka Ogwumike and 19 points from Chelsea Gray, and an off game by All-Star Tina Charles, who shot 1-for-13 and had nine points, although she nailed four big free throws near the end.

The home team went 12-for-14 from the line in the final four minutes and 27-for-39 overall. 

“If we keep them off the line, it’s a different game,” Gray said.

The remaining bench also gave a big effort. Reshanda Gray stepped forward with 10 points, eight rebounds and three steals, and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe had eight points.

“I want to say in my tenure playing for the Liberty, this organization has always done a great job of being deep and having a big bench,” Charles said.

Chiney Ogwumike scored on a layup with 48.1 seconds left, cutting the deficit to 76-75 for the Sparks (10-8).

Reshanda Gray went 1-for-2 from the line at the 36.4 mark, then stole the inbounds pass following a timeout. 

Tanisha Wright hit two from the line to make it 79-75. But Chelsea Gray countered with a three. 

Charles then made two foul shots for an 81-78 lead. Chelsea Gray missed on a three attempt with 11.8 seconds remaining. Charles made two more foul shots to finish it off.

“Just defense,” Charles said of the key. 

The Liberty took off on a 12-0 run to grab a 24-12 advantage early in the second quarter. They were up by seven at the break and seven after three. Johannes hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds of both periods.

“She’s a scorer,” said Kia Nurse,  who had 14 points. “She brings a European swagger into a North American game, which is a lot of fun to watch.” 

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