ATLANTA (AP) — With Angel McCoughtry unable to play for Atlanta, Tina Charles knew the Connecticut Sun had a great chance to stay unbeaten in the Eastern Conference.
It wasn’t easy.
Charles scored 23 points, pulled down a season-high 22 rebounds and hit a pair of free throws with 3.1 seconds left to give the Sun their first lead of the game in a 75-73 victory Sunday over the Dream.
“We definitely put ourselves in a hole,” she said. “I think the key is just to stay poised and together out there. We just have to know that we can always win.”
Renee Montgomery finished with 19 points and Kara Lawson added 11 for Connecticut, which has won five of six. The Sun (8-2) improved to 7-0 in the Eastern Conference.
Armintie Price scored a season-high 20 points and Sancho Lyttle had 15 for the Dream (4-6). Lyttle missed a baseline runner that didn’t touch the rim as time expired.
McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer, missed the game because of a sprained left knee.
“The obvious difference is they didn’t have Angel in the lineup, and you have to credit them for really outplaying us for the better part of the game,” Lawson said. “They played with great energy and forced us into kind of a different mode offensively.”
Charles, who has a franchise-record 22 straight games of scoring in double digits, grabbed a rebound with 3.1 seconds remaining after Montgomery missed a 17-footer. After Price fouled her, Charles made both free throws for Connecticut’s 75-73 lead.
The Sun were coming off a 97-55 win Friday over New York that included a 34-halftime lead, the largest in WNBA history. The 42-point margin of victory was a team record.
But a season-high 25 turnovers, including eight by Charles, resulted in 31 points for Atlanta and kept Connecticut struggling offensively until the game’s final seconds.
“I told my players we’re going to get arrested on the way to the airport for stealing,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “For a long stretch today, we didn’t play very well. We’re leading the league in fewest turnovers, and we had more in one game than in our first three games combined.”
Atlanta failed to make a field goal after Aneika Henry scored underneath to give the Dream a 71-69 lead with 4:34 remaining. Lindsey Harding, who was just 4 of 12 from the field, hit a pair of free throws to make it 73-69 for Atlanta’s final points with 2:11 to go.
“We need to stay on the attack and keep the high energy we have,” Price said. “Everyone on the bench stepped up.”
Asjha Jones hit a layup and a short hook shot on two straight possessions to tie the score 73-73 with 1:23 left and put more pressure on Atlanta.
“When we get on the offensive end, we just have to knock shots down,” Dream coach Marynell Meadors said. “We did our free throws really well today, but we missed way too many layups.”
Tiffany Hayes started in McCoughtry’s place and scored 11 points. Meadors believes McCoughtry, who scored 31 points in a blowout win Friday over Los Angeles, could return Tuesday when Atlanta hosts New York.
“If we had to play her today, we could have, but we just thought it would be best if we sat her,” Meadors said. “She just needs rest. She will be fine in the next couple of days.”
Charles’ dominance on the boards was nothing usual for the league’s second-leading rebounder. She had 13 in the second half. Connecticut had out-rebounded the Dream by the same number at the end of the game.
“I was going after the ball,” she said. “We needed to get boards in order to get transitions. That was one big thing for us, so I was just doing what I had to do down there.”