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Liberty stays even atop ASUN, takes down Queens in tight battle

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Queens guard Kenny Dye is honored before his final regular-season home game Wednesday. (Brian Wilmer/House of College Hoops)

CHARLOTTE -- Queens University held a going-away party Wednesday.

Kenny Dye -- in many ways the program's standard-bearer -- took the court for the final time in a regular-season game at Curry Arena Wednesday having already seized the career Royal scoring record. Dye received the honors and adulation he deserved.

Unfortunately for Dye and his Royals, Darius McGhee crashed the festivities.

McGhee shook off a somewhat icy 5-for-16 first half, draining 6-of-8 second-half tries -- 4-of-5 from distance -- to score 24 of Liberty's 53 points in the second stanza and help the Flames fend off Queens, 85-77.

"I thought we had a really good response in the second half," Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. "We didn't look like ourselves for a segment in the first half. That was a little disappointing. Queens had a lot to do with how we looked. They've got a good system and really good players. I'm very complimentary of Grant and his staff. To do what they've done in year one is unique."

Queens (17-13, 7-10 ASUN) took a 36-32 advantage to the interval off a half in which the Royals shot 45 percent from the deck and limited Liberty to just 3-for-12 from beyond the arc. McGhee hoisted half those shots, hitting just one. Liberty (23-7, 14-3) went to the line just twice in the opening half, hitting one.

The Flames raced out of the locker room to start the second half, going on a 7-0 run keyed by a McGhee triple. Colin Porter and Kyle Rode also knocked down buckets in the stretch, giving Liberty a 39-36 advantage. B.J. McLaurin converted a three-point play to halt the run, but the game was largely decided on that burst. Queens would never again lead, with the Liberty margin reaching as high as 12 on a McGhee trey with 10:37 remaining.

"The first four minutes of the second half (turned the game)," Queens coach Grant Leonard said after the game. "I think they made better adjustments, and that's completely on me. I need to figure out how to get our guys to come out in the second half and get stops in those first four minutes.

"This seems to be something that's going on in a lot of games," Leonard continued. "We've gotta figure out how to come out with a defensive mindset and keep our foot on the pedal in the second half -- in the first four minutes, especially."

McKay acknowledged the gravity of the first second-half segment -- even if he wouldn't fully cop to it after the game.

"If we weren't playing them again on Friday, I'd give you the real answer," McKay joked regarding the interval adjustments. "I think we knew that they had dictated to us a style that we were uncharacteristic in, and we just felt we had to be better on the defensive end. You can't allow Queens to go downhill on you every play. It's gonna really compromise your defense."

"I think we just started to execute better defensively and played with a little bit more discipline and a little bit more intensity, which opened up a couple things," McGhee added.

A large part of the defensive focus centered around stopping Dye. The Queens star managed to hit just 3-of-15 tries from the field -- without hitting a three -- and got to the line just four times on the night. The defensive effort seemed to shock even McGhee after the game.

"It felt like he had more than nine (points)," McGhee said. "The way he was getting to the basket, the spots he was getting to on the floor -- luckily, we got lucky he just missed a couple shots. I don't think his nine was a quiet nine, if that makes sense."

Liberty guard Colin Porter agreed.

"He's a great player. Of course, he's at the top of the scout," Porter said. "We'll see him again Friday and I know that he'll be prepared and watching film. I know it's not just gonna be easy."

McGhee, who passed Centenary's Willie Jackson to become the ASUN's all-time leading scorer, tallied 35 on the night. The total marked the seventh career effort of 35 or more from the Roxboro, N.C., native.

"I was really okay with (how we defended him in) the first half. I was not so great -- he went 5-for-5 from three in the second half, and then we sent him to the foul line," Leonard said of McGhee. "That's the thing -- you can't let a good shooter get to the foul line and get going. Once he sees it going in, then he's rolling."

"He's not bad, is he?," McKay asked regarding his star. "He didn't look like the normal Darius (in the first half), but in the second half, I thought he did a great job of taking what he was given and not rushing. He's a marvelous player. It's such a security blanket to have him on your team, because at any time, he could make eight or 10 points in a row. We really trust him. I'm glad that we get him for at least two more games."

Three additional Flames scored in double figures. Porter scored 13 while recording five steals and dishing four dimes. Kyle Rode scored 12, while Shiloh Robinson contributed 11 in 17 minutes off the bench and recorded a key chase-down block. The Flames shot 60 percent in the second stanza on the way to a 49.2 percent (29-for-59) effort from the deck. Liberty ventured to the line 18 times in the second half, hitting 17 of those tries.

BJ McLaurin paced Queens with 19 points and five boards, including 4-for-5 on threes. AJ McKee added 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting. McKee also knocked down all six of his free throw tries. Jay'Den Turner contributed a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards, while Quan McCluney put home 10 off the bench.

Despite Dye's tough night, he leaves the Curry Arena floor -- to quote the shooting shirts his teammates wore before the game -- "breakin' records".

"Queens has meant a lot," Dye said. "They've supported me ever since I came in and proved myself that I belonged here. All the dedication that I've put into the game, the hours in the gym when nobody's looking ... They've been here on the ride with me the whole time. I have nothing but love for this place."

Could Dye's number 15 find its way from his back to the rafters in the place he's called home for five years?

"I hope so," Dye said. "I'm gunning for the assist record. I got the points record. The first priority is to win these games. We're gonna go on Friday and try to get that win."

The teams play again Friday at Liberty Arena in Lynchburg, Va., in the second half of a home-and-home between the two travel partners. Game time is set for 7:00 (Eastern), with streaming over ESPN+.


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