Sabrina Ionescu helps lead New York Liberty to season opening win over Connecticut Sun

New York Liberty
Photo Credit: Christian Arnold

Seven straight points late in the fourth quarter by Sabrina Ionescu helped swing the New York Liberty season opener from what could have been a loss to an 81-79 win over the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night. 

It was Ionescu that helped orchestrate two comebacks in New York’s first game of the year,  one which came in the first half and the second coming when the Liberty needed it the most. With the Liberty trailing 70-68 with 3:51 left in the game, Ionescu hit a 12-foot pull-up to tie the game and was fouled on the shot giving her a chance at a free throw. 

The Liberty guard knocked down the free throw to give her team a 71-70 lead. She then hit a three 50 seconds later to put New York ahead 74-73, after Connecticut retook the lead. A driving layup at the 2:31 mark put the Liberty up by three. 

New York held onto the lead for the rest of the way to capture the win in front of a boisterous crowd of 6,829 fans inside Barclays Center. 

The Liberty had led at the half when Connecticut chipped away at their eight-point advantage to start the second half. New York did take an 11-point lead when Stefanie Dolson made a layup with 7:54 left in the third quarter, but the Sun worked their way back into the game. 

It was Sun’s forward Alyssa Thomas that pulled Connecticut within four with 2:20 left in the game and then hit an ensuing free throw to complete the three-point play. Thomas, who finished the night with 25 points, hit back-to-back shots to give Connecticut a one-point lead. 

Ionescu finished the night with a team-high 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. She helped spearhead New York’s first-half comeback after the Sun had jumped to a quick lead. 

Natasha Howard had 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting, while grabbing 6  rebounds and 3 assists. Sami Whitcomb scored 15 on the night while Dolson scored 4 points in her first game with the Liberty. 

As a team, New York shot 28-of-59 from the field and 10-of-25 from three-point range. 

The Sun opened up an 8-0 lead through the first four minutes of the game making three of their first nine shots of the game. New York missed its first six shots of the night, which included four from beyond the arc. 

Willoughby made the Liberty’s first basket of the season with 5:40 left in the first quarter on a cutting layup. It ended the 8-0 run Connecticut had started the game on.  

A pair of baskets by Howard, free throws by Michaela Onyenwere and a late basket by helped the Liberty cut the Sun lead to 19-12 by the end of the first quarter. 

It was Ionescu who helped lead the Liberty back in the second, first by knocking down a quick three to open the period and then by hitting a 16-foot pull-up jumper to cut Connecticut’s lead to 23-20 with 6:14 left in the half. Another basket for Ionescu with 4:22 pulled the Liberty within four after the Sun built up their lead once again and then she made a floating layup and free throw to make it a one-point game. 

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Whitcomb’s three tied the game with 2:15 left in the second quarter and Ionescu gave New York the 33-30 lead with a 26-foot three moments later. The Liberty went into the locker room with a 38-30  lead after Howard knocked down a three of her own to close out the quarter. 

Saturday’s season opener marked the Liberty’s second season calling Barclays Center home. The franchise moved to the Brooklyn Arena last season and is in its fourth year under the ownership of Joe and Clara Tsai, who also own the Brooklyn Nets. 

In fact, the corporate synergy was on display as Nets’ sharpshooter Seth Curry sat courtside for the Liberty win.

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