WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Rookie Teaira McCowan hit a buzzer-beating reverse layup as the clock expired Friday night to deliver the Indiana Fever to an 81-80 win over the New York Liberty, capturing a season-opening victory for the first time since 2013.
Capping a furious fourth quarter with seven lead changes and ties in the final six minutes, McCowan entered the game following a timeout when Tina Charles put the Liberty ahead, 80-79, with seven seconds to go. Erica Wheeler took an inbounds pass and delivered to veteran Candice Dupree at the top of the key. As the clock wound down, the 14-year pro read a mismatch and found the rookie in her pro debut for the game-winner.
“That’s the case of a seasoned All-Star trusting a rookie,” said Fever coach Pokey Chatman. “It was a nice way to win on the road, and even sweeter with the rookie adding the finishing touch.”
McCowan, the third overall pick in the WNBA Draft, finished with 11 points and six rebounds, impacting the game in each sequence she played. Tiffany Mitchell led Indiana with a career-high 22 points on the help of 13-of-14 free throw shooting.
“It was nice to see Tiff have an impact,” she added. “She got to the line and hit some pull-ups. I keep telling them it’s going to take all of us, and it rang true tonight. I’m pleased to get contributions from so many people.”
Mitchell and McCowan scored 33 of Indiana’s 35 points off the bench. Erica Wheeler paced Fever starters with 16 points and Dupree added 12 with a team-high seven rebounds.
Charles powered New York with 32 points and 12 rebounds including 10 of the Liberty’s last 13 points.
Mitchell keyed a 9-2 Indiana sequence that knotted the score at 67 with 6:09 to play and neither team led by more than three the rest of the way. Wheeler gave the Fever a three-point lead on a floating bank shot with 2:48 to play, but Rebecca Allen tied the score for New York with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Mitchell, after hitting her first 12 free-throw attempts, missed her 13th attempt but made her 14th to lift the Fever to a 79-78 lead with 2:16 to go. The Fever had a chance to make it a two-possession game with 13 seconds to go, but Betnijah Laney missed a pair of free throws to give the Liberty what appeared to be a final possession.
Out of a Liberty timeout and another by the Fever, Charles was fouled in the paint and promptly hit both free throws as New York retook the lead with seven seconds left.
Indiana called its last timeout, McCowan entered the game again and the Fever won in dramatic fashion, continuing an optimist beginning to the club’s 20th season following a 3-0 preseason slate.
The Fever spotted the Liberty a 12-2 advantage in the early going but responded with the same run to knot the score at 14. The Indiana run coincided with the first pro appearance by McCowan who checked into the game at the 3:29 mark and the Fever down 10. The Fever reeled off a 12-2 spurt of their own with McCowan contributing two points and three rebounds before the end of the period.
A similar sequence took place in the second period with Indiana boasting a 26-25 lead when McCowan entered at the 5:08 mark. The Fever outscored the Liberty 13-8 the rest of the half with McCowan contributing four points and a rebound as Indiana took a 39-33 lead into the locker room.
Indiana took its first lead of the game on a driving layup from Kelsey Mitchell midway through the second period. Liberty rookie Asia Durr put New York back in the lead with her first basket as a pro, but a pair of free throws from Tiffany Mitchell put Indiana back on top. The Fever stretched its lead to as many as 12, 54-42, but New York answered with 18 of 20 points to close the third period and gain its first lead of the half. Durr and Reshanda Gray combined for 10 points during the rally to lead the Liberty to a four-point lead after three quarters.
Kia Nurse added 12 points for New York and Gray finished in double figures with 10.
Indiana plays next at Connecticut on Tuesday prior to opening its home schedule on Saturday, June 1 with a 20th Anniversary Celebration delivered by Papa John’s, in a 7:00 p.m. rematch against the Liberty.