When you look at the Liberty’s roster, it’s all too easy to focus on what the team doesn’t have. Brittany Boyd is gone, the victim of an Achilles injury. The Kremlin might as well get an office at Madison Square Garden, what with Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn both tied to Russia with overseas obligations. Both will be absent until the end of June.
Yet with all that, during Friday night’s 93-89 win over the Dallas Wings at the Garden, the Liberty showed that while it may not have everyone it wants, it still has the player it needs: Tina Charles.
Charles scored 22 of her career-high 36 points in the second half to help the Liberty erase a seven-point third-quarter deficit and bolster a team that recently has seemed unsure of itself. She added 10 rebounds and three assists and went 8-for-9 from the free-throw line as the Liberty (3-3) snapped a two-game losing streak.
“This win was excruciatingly important for us,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six games when the players are not here . . . We’re going to scrap and fight . . . Then we’ll see how good we are at that point” when they return.
Shavonte Zellous had 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Kiah Stokes added 13 points and 15 rebounds. Bria Hartley had 10 points and four assists.
The best indication of Charles’ night was Laimbeer’s almost blasé attitude about her accomplishment. “She’s got a lot of quality games under her belt; it was a win we needed [and] she willed us down the stretch and made a lot of [big] buckets, but that’s her job,” he said before pivoting his focus to Zellous, whom he said he has ridden especially hard. She made a good impression on him.
Charles’ three-pointer with 2:47 left gave the Liberty an 87-78 lead, but the Wings went on a 9-2 run, capped by Kaela Davis’ three-point play with 36 seconds left. Clinging to an 89-87 lead, the Liberty still looked in good shape when Sugar Rodgers went to the line. But Rodgers, who came in as a career 82-percent free-throw shooter, missed both.
After two Dallas misses, Charles hit two foul shots with 20 seconds to go. A layup by the Wings’ Kayla Thornton made it 91-89, but Rodgers was fouled on the next possession and made both with six seconds left for the final margin.
“If we lost this game,” Laimbeer said, “especially in the end when we had the game won, that would have been a heart- stopping moment. We would have to dig deep to get out of that one.”