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Liberty lose heartbreaker to Fever at buzzer in home opener

The New York Liberty lost a heartbreaker Friday night in their home opener, going down to the Indiana Fever, 81-80, on a buzzer beater by Fever rookie Teaira McCowan.

With a second left on the clock at the Westchester County Center, the 6’7” McGowan took a neat feed from Candice Dupree and made an acrobatic layup at the buzzer. It was the season opener for both teams.

It was a game of runs, with the Liberty scoring the first eight points of the game. The Fever went up by six, 39-33 at the half, but after an 18-2 Liberty run, they went into the fourth up by four. It was a back-and-fourth final stanza and with seven seconds left, the Liberty went up by one after Tina Charles made two free throws with seven seconds left to give New York the lead before McCowan’s heroics.

Charles finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds for New York. Tiffany Mitchell led Indiana with 22 points.

“Lot of good things,” coach Katie Smith told Brian Heyman of Newsday. “To fight that hard and come up short, it’s tough . . . Just came up about a half a second short.”

It was the Liberty’s 14th straight loss, going back to last year when the Liberty was 7-27. Smith told Heyman that the Liberty is a different team from last year, with a new owner, upgraded front office and roster.

“Our team is quite different,” Smith said. “We’ve never talked about that number. It’s not a point at all.”

Indiana shot 42 percent from the floor despite hitting just 3-of-12 shots from behind the arc. The team was 20-of-28 at the line. The Fever also had 15 assists on 29 made baskets and forced 16 turnovers. The Liberty’s numbers were similar to the Fever’s, with the exception of of turnovers. The Liberty gave up 16.

Joe Tsai, the Liberty’s new owner and the Nets minority owner, sat courtside next to the New York bench, wearing a Liberty golf shirt. The game was the first of 16 homes games that will be covered by YES Network. The game drew 1,965 fans, less than a third of the league average last season. Tsai has said the Liberty is seeking a larger venue next season with Barclays Center the likely alternative.

The two teams face off again next Saturday, this time at the Bankers Life Field House in Indianapolis.