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Zellous buzzer beater lifts New York Liberty to road win of vengeance (Highlights)

UNCASVILLE-It happened back on June 8, but a series of losses and a pregame reminder made the wound fresh all over again.

The heroics of Connecticut Sun reserve Shekinna Stricklen sinking a game-winning three-pointer, while being fouled by Shavonte Zellous, guided the Sun to an 88-86 win that night. Their opponent, the New York Liberty, never seemed to recover from that home brutality, having gone just 3-11 since Stricklen’s heroics.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, the Liberty may finally have begun to exorcise the demons that put their season into a tailspin.

Zellous took an inbounds pass with a mere second left in regulation and launched a three-pointer that silenced the healthy matinee crowd gathered at Mohegan Sun Arena, the trio of points necessary for the Liberty to earn a 79-76 victory.

“It’s like deja vu, but in our favor,” head coach Katie Smith remarked. “It felt good because I thought our team was locked in. I thought everybody showed up. They executed at the end, got the stop when they needed to, hit shots. Just a huge positive feeling in the way they showed up.”

“Hopefully we can build off this, correct the mistakes that we have and build off of it, grow from it,” the enthusiastic Zellous added. “You can’t get too high off a win, too low after a loss.”

3rd Star: Brittany Boyd

Boyd was again the do-it-all player off the bench for the Liberty (6-14), earning eight assists and seven rebounds, the last of which ended Connecticut’s final possession. Smith praised the job Boyd, as a guard, was able to do on the inside.

“I thought our guards really got in there and rounded up some rebounds that we needed,” Smith said. “I just thought as a whole, it was just a really good team effort.”

2nd Star: Tina Charles

Charles earned herself her second double-double in the past three games, tallying 19 points and 11 rebounds. The latter stat continued a strong trend, as she has now earned at least seven rebounds in four of the past five games.

After the game, however, Charles was more pleased with what a win like this can do for her whole team.

“Right now it’s not looking as good for us,” Charles admitted. “But we see a light at the end of the tunnel with a win like this.”

Charles made it clear that she believes this Liberty team, currently four games out of the league’s last playoff spot with 14 games to go, is capable of making a postseason push.

“Definitely,” said Charles when asked about a playoff rally. “You have to look back on it and believe that you can.” She likened the final stand to the Liberty’s 10-game winning streak last season, which concluded the regular season.

1st Star: Shavonte Zellous

Zellous’ miracle, part of a 6-for-7 shooting day (14 points), shocked many gathered in Uncasville, but it didn’t faze Smith at all.

“I hate to say it, but it’s somewhat expected,” Smith said. “This is the Zellous that we need and we know can do both ends. She is one of our best basketball IQs and one of our best players. This has to be a consistent factor. Whether it’s an attack mentality and on the other end we’re locking down the defensive end.”

Zellous herself was glad to earn personal redemption for the crucial foul back in White Plains, but was likewise looking forward to seeing what sort of wonders this could work for the team.

“I feel good, not because of the game-winner, good because we got an actual win,” she said. “It’s been an adversity-filled season for us, so to come here against a very good Connecticut team, it’s a plus for us.”

How It Was Decided

The final stages of the Liberty victory began with 3:19 to go in the final quarter. The teams exchanged the lead at certain points, but the Sun, paced by 17 points from Chiney Ogwumike, started to pull away after the halfway mark. After Connecticut (10-10) went up 71-66, the Liberty took a timeout to regroup.

“Just stay together,” Charles said of the message in the timeout. “It’s 3 minutes, it’s a lot of time, a lot of ballgame left. Me playing for this organization, we’ve been in the same thing and we’ve been able to come back, or at least go into overtime.”

“It was more just trying to get them to breathe. We weren’t far off,” Smith added. “It was like, hey, plenty of time, let’s get this thing done. I thought they had a prescience about them as a unit.”

Whatever was said in the final timeout, it definitely did the job for the hungry Liberty. They outscored Connecticut by a 13-5 margin after the break, the run obviously concluding with the Zellous miracle. On the penultimate Sun possession, Bria Hartley drew an offensive foul, denying Connecticut a chance to grow their lead. Epiphanny Prince sank a tying triple on the other end in retaliation.

Game Notes

  • Marissa Coleman (right ankle sprain) missed her seventh consecutive game.
  • The Liberty improved to 6-2 when Zellous scores at least 10 points.
  • This marked the third Liberty game decided by a final shot that killed all remaining time on the clock. In addition to the two Connecticut games, a June game against the Washington Mystics went down to the final seconds, with Elena Della Donne dooming the Liberty to an 80-77 loss.
  • The Liberty blocked five shots. Amanda Zauhi B. was responsible for three of that total.
  • Prince (15 points) earned double figures for the third consecutive game.

What’s Next

The Liberty will return home on Sunday, taking on the Chicago Sky for the fourth and final time this season (3:00 p.m. ET, MSG+/NBATV), as they look to earn back to back wins for the first time since June. Chicago has taken two of the previous three meetings, but the Liberty stole the last matchup, a 97-94 overtime thriller at Wintrust Arena. Charles led the way with 28 points.

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