Mystics Top Liberty in Home Opener

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In a hotly contested match up between two Eastern Conference foes, the Mystics emerged victorious against the New York Liberty, remaining undefeated (2-0) on the season after the first weekend of regular season play. Fresh off a road win at Connecticut, Washington battled through seventeen lead changes to take down the Liberty, 67-62 on Saturday night at Verizon Center.

Both teams played without usual key fixtures, making for an interesting match up. The Liberty await the arrival of new addition Epiphanny Prince, acquired in the offseason from the Chicago Sky, as she finishes a commitment playing abroad. The ‘Stics are riddled with injuries, with starters Bria Hartley and Kia Vaughn missing from the rotation. Hartley and Vaughn averaged 9.7 and 9.0 points per game last season, with Vaughn contributing 6.3 rebounds.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to have a big body with Kia out there against Charles and Stokes and those guys. She’s always played well against New York,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “Hopefully we’ll get them back in the near future and we can build on that, too. We’ll try to get them back as soon as we can.”

Without Hartley and Vaughn, Washington’s depth was the story of the night. Forward/Center Emma Meesseman went off for 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists. A Meesseman rebound late in the third quarter brought the Mystics’ bench to its feet, as she drew a foul from Kiah Stokes and capitalized on her free throws, making both.

However, early in the first half, it seemed free throws would be the difference in the game. Stefanie Dolson committed two fouls early in the first quarter, playing less than five minutes in the period. At the half, New York was 8 of 10 from the line, while the Mystics were held without a free-throw attempt. At the conclusion of the game, the Liberty had gone to the line 21 times, shooting 81%, while the Mystics shot 79% on 14 attempts.

Neither team had a strong offensive showing, with both shooting under 37% from the field. Yet, on the defensive end, the Mystics were able to force 17 Liberty turnovers and picked up six steals as a team, lead by Armintie Herrington with two.

A one possession game with under three minutes remaining, Kara Lawson ensured the win for the ‘Stics, scoring five of her eight points and contributing two rebounds in the final minutes. Although outrebounded by New York 38 to 30, Washington closed out the Liberty in the last six minutes, allowing only one field goal.

“Overall we all locked in there, the defense was a lot better the last three minutes,” Lawson said. “We were more purposeful with our movements. And then, on the offensive end, we made a couple big plays…. For us to come out of this opening back-to-back 2-0, I mean that’s huge. We’re pretty excited.”

Natasha Cloud also came in clutch for the ‘Stics in the final quarter, scoring five of her seven points. Cloud added three assists and two defensive rebounds and continues to develop under the tutelage of veterans like Lawson and Latta.

“I still feel like I’m a little girl sitting and watching [Kara], whether it’s at Tennessee or her starting in the league. I’m sitting as her fan,” Cloud said. “It’s still a surreal feeling that I’m her teammate now, but I’m watching her, I’m watching Ivory, I’m watching the veterans and I’m trying to learn from them because you can’t get a better two to learn from as guards.”

The night was made extra special for Cloud, whose teammates from Saint Joseph’s were in attendance. The rookie’s cheering squad was completed with a Fathead of her face that her friends waved excitedly each time she scored.

“I love them guys. You know they told me they had a funny surprise, that they were coming up,” Cloud said. “I didn’t know they were going to bring a Fathead but, to have them in the stands was definitely a calming influence for me to see them up there supporting me.”

The Liberty were led by three time WNBA All-Star Tina Charles with 18 points and eight rebounds with Tanisha Wright and Carolyn Swords in double figures as well. Washington will face New York three more times this season, twice at Madison Square Garden and once at home. In their next outing, the Mystics will take on the Atlanta Dream, Friday June 12 at Verizon Center (7 pm).