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Central Arkansas hangs on, claims first ASUN victory of the season

Camren Hunter posted a career-high in Thursday night's win at Queens. (Photo: Central Arkansas Athletics)

CHARLOTTE -- After Queens forced a Central Arkansas turnover with just over 27 seconds left, the player who would take the last shot was never in question.

Even after a slip that forced a held ball -- which was awarded to Queens on the possession arrow -- there was still no question.

That player -- star guard Kenny Dye -- caught an inbounds lob and dribbled to the left side of the bucket. Dye squared, fell away, and released the last of the Royals' 67 shots. It looked true -- until it didn't. The try hit the rim, then harmlessly bounced away, giving Central Arkansas its first ASUN win of the season in a 92-91 result.

"We were gonna run a ball screen for Kenny. We'd been getting a lot of good stuff off our ball screen action," Queens coach Grant Leonard said after the game. "Kenny lost the ball, then we ended up with the jump ball. We got it back and then Kenny lost the ball again on the second play, but still got a clean look at the rim. We just didn't get a second rebound.

"He's earned the right to take the big shots. He took it. This one just didn't fall."

Queens (12-6, 2-3 ASUN) jumped out strong, leading Central Arkansas by double digits on several occasions. The Royals seized a 26-16 lead on a thunderous B.J. McLaurin dunk halfway through the stanza, before an 18-7 Bears run capped by a V.J. Reeves triple put the Bears back ahead, 34-33. Another Reeves triple gave Central Arkansas its own 10-point advantage just before the half.

Central Arkansas (6-12, 1-4) rode its perimeter game to the halftime advantage. The Bears canned 11-of-18 triples (61 percent) in the period. Reeves and Johannes Kirsipuu sank three apiece, with Camren Hunter and Masai Olowokare adding a pair each.

Queens provided the next run, surging out of the locker room on a 11-3 run to seize back the lead at 55-54. Just as quickly, though, Central Arkansas punched back. The Bears tore off a 14-3 run to secure a 68-58 advantage.

Central Arkansas would never again trail. There was, however, the matter of an incredibly chaotic final minute that nearly denied the Bears their first league victory.

Dye splashed a triple with 42 seconds remaining that brought the Royals within two. Kirsipuu split two free throws on the other end, then Dye hit two on the other end. Queens forced a turnover as Central Arkansas tried to inbound, but could not complete the comeback.

Queens stymied the Bears' perimeter game in the second half. After the sizzling first half, UCA knocked down just four threes in 13 attempts in the second half. Leonard acknowledged the second-half defensive effort from his side.

"First of all, it started in transition," Leonard said. "I know the stats didn't say it, but we gave up 18 points in transition in the first half and five threes. 11 threes total in the first half. You're not gonna win any games guarding the three like that. We really made a focus to contest the three heavier and to pressure the ball.

"We wanted them to score in isolation, which they did some. Credit to them -- they had a really good offensive night."

Leonard then put a finer point on the result.

"Our guys have to be mentally prepared to get stops. I didn't think in the first half that we were locked in to get stops, and that was the difference in the game," Leonard said.

The sides were also whistled for 40 total fouls and attempted 45 total free throws. 25 of the whistles and 32 of the free throws happened in the second half. Leonard acknowledged the effect of the stoppages on the flow of the contest.

"The officials -- and they didn't do anything wrong -- came out in the second half and called it a little bit tighter, which kind of ruined the flow of the game early in the second half," Leonard said. "It was the same both ways. I mean, we both shot free throws."

Hunter turned in a career-best 33 on 11-of-20 shooting (4-of-9 from three) and 7-of-7 from the free throw line, eclipsing his prior high of 28 against Rider in November. Reeves and Kirsipuu tallied 14 each, knocking down a combined seven treys. The Bears shot 45.2 percent (28-for-62) from the floor, with 15 of their 31 tries from distance (48.4 percent) finding the net.

Five Royals finished in doubles, paced by A.J. McKee's 22. McKee connected on 8-of-15 from the floor and 3-of-3 from the line. Dye added 15 despite hitting just 4-of-14 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. Chris Ashby hit 4-of-10 -- all threes -- to total 12, while Gavin Rains and B.J. McLaurin added 11 apiece. Rains posted his fifth double-double of the campaign, securing 11 boards.

Both teams return to conference play Saturday. Queens hosts North Alabama in Curry Arena. Tip time is set for 1:00 (Eastern). Central Arkansas visits Liberty Arena to take on Liberty in a 7:00 tip. Both games will be streamed via ESPN+.


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