Stricklen’s buzzer-beater lifts Sun over Liberty, 88-86

Westchester, N.Y. – Shekinna Stricklen’s four-point play at the final buzzer lifted  the Connecticut Sun over the New York Liberty Thursday, 88-86.

Jasmine Thomas led the way for the Sun with 19 points, while Chiney Ogwumike had 16 and Stricklen, 12.

The Liberty scored 54 points in the first half to take a 12-point lead into the break. The Sun then clamped down in the third and fourth quarters, holding their hosts to 32 points. A Marissa Coleman layup with 30 seconds left and a Bria Hartley free throw with 5.8 seconds put New York up 86-84, and it looked like they would escape with the win.

Then Thomas passed the ball to Stricklen on the wing, who buried it as time expired, and was fouled. She made the free throw with no time on the clock, after which she was mobbed by teammates.

Stricklen hailed Thomas for trusting her to take the final shot.

“It was all up to Jasmine Thomas,” Stricklen said. “She would drive all the way and kick it out. She kicked it to me. I know I didn’t have that much time, so I just let it go. This is my first game-winner, so my teammates had a lot of confidence in me.”

Both teams had entered the game coming off a loss, and for Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut, it was their first of the year. New York has slowly seen the return of injured players, but the loss to the Sun marked the second time this year that they have given up a game-winning three-pointer.

Liberty coach Katie Smith said her team has to improve their late-game execution.

“This league is tough, people are going to beat up on each other but we need to at some point put a string of games together and we are capable of that,” Smith said. “But we have to clean up a lot of the little stuff that is controllable. It’s not like they are knocking down threes in our face, we are giving them opportunities that they shouldn’t get.”

Tina Charles led the Liberty with 24 points – her fourth straight 20-plus point game. Shavonte Zellous added 13 and Coleman and rookie Kia Nurse each chipped in 11.

Guard Brittany Boyd, who returned to the New York lineup this week after recovering from an Achilles tear for a year, gave fans a scare. With 6:15 remaining in the fourth period, Boyd fell to the ground after a box out and immediately grabbed her left ankle. After several minutes, she rose to her feet.

The Liberty have yet to play a game with a full roster this year, as Epiphanny Prince is still out with a concussion she sustained playing overseas, and center Kiah Stokes, with a sprained ankle, remains out.

“It would have been nice to have her [Stokes] out there, especially in a rebounding battle,” Smith said. “She’s a tremendous rebounder for us, doesn’t help that she’s not there, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t have gotten it done with the folks we had. Very capable of getting this thing done.”

The game was in the hands of the Liberty, it was theirs for the taking, Charles is aware that these squandered opportunities should not define who they are.

“We know this game was ours and the talent we have in the room, we know how much hard work Katie and the coaching staff has been putting in to prepare us for games,” Charles said. ” When we watch film, we know we are right there. If we keep holding each other accountable and motivating one another. Definitely, we are right there we just have to put it together.”

Connecticut head coach Curt Miller had high praises for the struggling Liberty.

“New York is the team to beat this year, period,” he said. “They have everything: three-point shooting, defense, offense and a dog in Charles. They have everything that a championship team needs. In my opinion, it makes this win bigger. I don’t care about what their record is right now, I think New York when it’s all said and done is going to be the team to beat.”