Queens makes strides in first Division I season

The Royals are 13-6 after evening their Atlantic Sun record at 3-3

Queens guard Kenny Dye has averaged a team-best 17 points and five assists for the Royals in their first season in Division I. (John S. Peterson / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The Queens University of Charlotte men’s basketball team is on track for its 13th consecutive winning season. The difference this year is the Royals have made the jump to Division I.

Known primarily as a swimming powerhouse, Queens had also had one of the most competitive Division II basketball teams around.

Formerly a member of the South Atlantic Conference — and now an Atlantic Sun Conference member — the Royals made the DII tournament seven years in a row and 15 times overall since 1996.

It surely helped the school decide to jump up a level to the top of college sports.

Because of the NCAA’s policy on reclassifying programs, Queens’ postseason streak will end this year as it is ineligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT until the 2026–27 season. Paired with the departure of the school’s all-time winningest coach (Bart Lundy, now with Wisconsin-Milwaukee), it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the Royals took a step back in their first season at college basketball’s top level.

That hasn’t been the case so far.

While the Royals’ 13-6 (3-3 ASUN) record is a far cry from the 30-4 (21-3 SAC) mark from a season ago, Queens and first-year head coach Grant Leonard are already proving they belong in Division I.

“Our theme this year is to embrace adversity,” Leonard told North State Journal after Queens’ 107-78 home win over North Alabama on Saturday. “We know we’re going to see a few more tough ones this year than we do in most years, and we really want to just stay together through the tough times and be able to push forward.”

In Saturday’s win, the Royals shot a season-best 61% from the field and connected on 15 of 27 3-pointers (53%), reaching the century mark for the second time this season. Senior point guard and leading scorer Kenny Dye finished with 18 points and seven assists, while sophomore AJ McKee added 15 points, reaching double figures for the 19th straight game.

“I think, most importantly, our guys stayed connected on both sides of the floor,” Leonard said. They talked defensively so we had less communication errors, and our offense really shared the ball well. When you do both of those things, it’s going to go well. … We spread the floor and we take what the defense gives us. If they give us driving lanes, we’ll take them. If not, we’ll kick it out because we believe in our shooters.”

While Queens isn’t postseason eligible, improved shooting like the Royals had in Saturday’s win could help them climb the Atlantic Sun standings and join frontrunners Liberty, Kennesaw State and Eastern Kentucky, which are all 5-1 in early-season conference play.

In his 19th season as a basketball coach, including eight years as Lundy’s assistant, Leonard said the biggest change from last season — apart from a new slate of conference opponents — has been the size and athleticism of the players his squad is facing.

“With positional size, the wings and guards are longer,” he said. “With the bigs, they just have more of them and they’re bigger. Our guys have been adjusting offensively where we’ve been fine, but defensively, we need to hunker down.”

While Dye and McKee have been the Royals’ go-to players on offense, 6-foot-8 junior forward BJ McLaurin — a transfer from UNC Asheville — and 6-foot-7 junior forward Gavin Rains have also both contributed. McLaurin is shooting 51.4% from the field, including 53.8% on 3-pointers, and Rains leads the Atlantic Sun in rebounding at 10.5 per game.

With a dozen games left in their first Division I season, the Royals are on their way to building a program that can return to the postseason — this time in Division I.

“We’re taking it one game at a time, to be honest with you,” Leonard said. “We’ve never been in this league and we’ve never been in a lot of these places, so we can’t look too far forward. You have to stay grounded and just take the next one.”