WASHINGTON -- The Indiana Fever know how to dig deep for a big road win, especially with first place on the line.
Briann January scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half, including four free throws in the final 2.9 seconds, to help the defending Eastern Conference champion Fever remain atop the conference standings with a 78-73 win over the Washington Mystics on Saturday night.
"We know if we want to be Eastern Conference champions, we've got to win on the road," said January, who made 14 of 15 free throws and had eight assists. "This was a huge game with the standings the way they are with everyone so close."
Ebony Hoffman and Katie Douglas added 13 points each, and Tamika Catchings had 12 points before fouling out as the Fever (15-7) held off a late rally to win their fourth straight and sixth in the last seven.
Indiana, which lost the previous two matchups against Washington this year, moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mystics in the tight Eastern Conference where only four games separate the six teams.
"Losing the first two against them, we needed to come back so we have a chance to win the [season] series against this team," January said.
Katie Smith scored 17 points to lead the Mystics (13-8), who finished with 20 turnovers. Crystal Langhorne had 15 points and 13 rebounds, Monique Currie added 14 points and Lindsey Harding 10.
"You hate to lose your home games," Smith said. "With a team like [Indiana], you'd like to be able to hold homecourt because we are going to their place on Friday, so we'll try and return the favor."
Washington trailed 68-57 before Smith made a technical free throw and hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-0 run that cut the deficit to two points on Currie's layup with 2:13 left.
After January and Currie each made two free throws, Tully Bevilaqua hit a 3 and Douglas made a free throw to extend the Fever's lead to 74-68 with 47 seconds to go.
Currie hit a 3 and, after Smith's potential tying 3 went in and out, Harding had a putback to pull the Mystics to 74-73 with 4.9 seconds remaining.
January, who was a perfect 9 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter, then sealed the win.
"Definitely the player of the game," Catchings said of the Fever's point guard, who was making her first start since May 23. "[Briann] getting to the free-throw [line] 15 times, especially when we looked up at halftime and I think we had shot only eight free throws as a team, that was huge.
January's final four free throws were sandwiched around yet another Mystics turnover -- the final one a long pass that skipped off of Harding's fingers -- which was their 61st in three games against the Fever.
"I thought we did a really good job disrupting their [offense], the pick-and-roll, the pick-and-pop," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "I thought that kind of set the tone early that we were going to be really aggressive defensively. Just a hard fought game."
Bevilaqua, who was replaced by January in the starting lineup, entered the game having made only 2 of her last 20 3-point attempts. However, she made both of her shots from beyond the arc, including one in the third quarter that blunted a 9-2 Mystics run after they had pulled to 51-47.
Indiana used an 8-0 run late in the second quarter to take a 39-31 lead at halftime. Hoffman had 10 points at the break.
Helped by eight Mystics turnovers in the first quarter, the Fever took 14 extra shots from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 16 for 36 with 14 assists. They finished with 20 assists on 26 made field goals.
"I don't think we necessarily handled their pressure, their double teams in the first quarter and then we had to dig ourselves out of it the rest of the way," said Smith, who finished with five turnovers.
Hoffman's 3-pointer gave the Fever the 11-point lead with 4:19 remaining in the game.