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Queens rises to the challenge, puts away FGCU in final minute

Queens forward B.J. McLaurin hit the game-winning free throws with 26 seconds to play, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in Thursday's win. (Photo: Queens Athletics)

CHARLOTTE – 120 total shots. 60 total threes. 166 total points.

Why wouldn’t a game like that come down to a defensive stop?

Florida Gulf Coast’s Zach Anderson caught an entry pass, began to back down A.J. McKee, then spun and spun again. With each turn, though, he found McKee, walling up. Anderson finally hoisted a last-second try over McKee’s outstretched arms. The shot fell off the rim – one of the few that did so for either side in the second half – and into the arms of Queens’ Jay’Den Turner, giving the Royals an 84-82 decision Thursday night at Curry Arena.

“I knew they were gonna iso on me, because they’d been going at me all day because he (Anderson) was a little bigger than me,” McKee said. “I was just like, ‘We’ve gotta get this win,’ so I stayed down, stayed with ten toes (on the floor), threw my hands up, and we got a stop and were able to get the (win). That’s all that matters.”

FGCU – which boasts two of the top 12 rebounders in the ASUN in Anderson and center Andre Weir – seemingly presented matchup problems for the Royals, especially given that the ASUN’s leading rebounder, Gavin Rains, was unavailable for the contest. If the size difference bothered McKee, he didn’t show it after the game.

“When it comes to little (alterations) of the shots and going into the paint, you have to be ready or take an extra dribble to take that contact from a bigger guy just to finish around the rim,” McKee said.

As big as Weir was – and he was, scoring 22 points and hauling in five boards – the Queens post players may have been bigger. Forward B.J. McLaurin started in Rains’ place and played 28 minutes, scoring 14 points and finishing a board shy of a double-double. The biggest play McLaurin made all night, however, came with 26 seconds remaining. McLaurin induced a foul from Weir – his fifth – and made both free throws to provide the final margin.

“They (the Queens post players) were 100 percent big,” McKee said. “They fouled one of their best players out in one of the biggest times of the game. They were able to push through, and even after some tough calls here and there, they stayed down, they stayed home, and they stayed solid. That’s what we needed.”

The impact of those post players was not lost on Queens coach Grant Leonard after the game, either.

“(We focused on) not letting their bigger guys go through us and get easy ones more often. They had to work for their shots,” Leonard said. “B.J.’s been phenomenal all year. He just needs more opportunity, which is on me. Gavin being out gave him that opportunity. There have been two other games Gavin’s been out – George Mason and ETSU – and in all those games, B.J. played fantastic. I have full confidence in B.J. going forward.”

Even without Rains in the lineup, the Royals’ impact was still felt on the offensive glass. McLaurin and Jay’Den Turner grabbed nine boards each, with guards McKee, Kalib Mathews, and Kenny Dye combining for 12. Queens outrebounded FGCU, 37-31, with a 14-9 offensive rebounding advantage.

“Rebounding is a huge emphasis on our team,” Leonard said. "It doesn’t matter that we’re smaller than teams. We think we’re faster to the ball and more aggressive to it. We actually have a rebounding coordinator on our team as a coach, and we emphasize it every day and in every drill. If we’re gonna be smaller, we’ve still gotta be excellent on the glass. I think that in the games where we’ve outrebounded our opponents, we’ve been very successful this year.”

The win snapped a string of four losses in five games for Queens, which is unfamiliar territory to a Royals club that has set a standard for success at the Division 2 level and earlier in their first-ever Division 1 season. For Leonard and McKee, though, the important message centered around staying the course.

“I thought it was really big for our guys’ confidence,” Leonard said of the win. “We haven’t really faced this much adversity in any of the guys’ tenures here and mine in a long time. They don’t really know what a losing streak is like. For them to come here and buckle down … I thought it was really their defensive effort – especially at the ends of both halves – that won us that game.”

“We’ve been going through it,” McKee said. “Our theme this year is ‘Embrace Adversity.’ We’ve been going through a lot of that. Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve never lost two games back-to-back or gone on a five-of-six-game losing stretch. For us to come out and get this win over a top team in the conference I think tells what we can really do when we settle down and lock in and play.”

McKee led the Royals and all scorers with 23, putting home 7-of-16 tries and 6-of-8 from the line. McKee also sank 3-of-7 from distance. Mathews added 16 points and four caroms, with McLaurin tallying 14 points and nine boards. Dye finished with 13, adding six helpers and four rebounds. The Royals shot 44.1 percent (26-for-59) on the night, sinking 12 threes in 30 tries (40 percent). Queens attempted 26 free throws and made 20, including the two biggest of the night.

Weir’s 22 points led the Eagles, along with his pulling in five of his club’s 31 rebounds. Guard Isaiah Thompson added 20, connecting on 6-of-12 tries from distance (7-of-16 total), while Anderson contributed a double-double with 19 points and 12 caroms. The Eagles shot 49.2 percent (30-for-61) from the deck, with 13 of their 31 (41.9 percent) of their attempted threes finding the net.

Both teams return to ASUN play Saturday. Queens (14-8, 4-5 ASUN) welcomes Stetson to Curry Arena for a 1:00 (Eastern) tip. FGCU (14-8, 4-5) travels to Lynchburg, Va., to square off with Liberty. Tip time in the Liberty Arena is set for 7:00 Saturday night. Both games will stream over ESPN+.

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