Charlotte native AJ McKee is clutch in Queens men’s basketball’s thrilling comeback

AJ McKee started attending Queens University of Charlotte men’s basketball games when he was a sophomore at Independence High School.

He saw the program dominate at the Division II level. He regularly attended games, from regular-season contests to the Elite Eight.

In the Royals’ home opener on Tuesday night, McKee, now in his fifth season on the team, stepped toward the free-throw line with three seconds on the clock.

The crowd roared as his first, game-tying foul shot dropped through the rim, then quieted itself as he got the ball back. McKee went through the same motions and knocked down the second free throw, sending the fans into another frenzy.

Queens battled all second half to a come-from-behind 74-72 victory against High Point in which McKee, still a junior because of a redshirt and COVID year, led the way with 21 points.

“Knowing Queens coming up, it was small,” McKee said. “I want to be a part of the history that makes it big. So, when we people ask about Queens University of Charlotte, they get AJ McKee.”

Queens (1-2), a Division I program for the second year, trailed 38-35 at halftime after a fast-paced first half of which High Point (1-2) led most.

The Royals faced a nine-point deficit early in the second half. They clawed back with an 8-2 run, punctuated by a steal from junior forward Jaxon Pollard, which quickly turned into a 3-pointer from McKee that made it 52-51 and fired up the crowd inside Curry Arena.

With just under five minutes left, McKee completed a three-point play that tied the game at 66, then gave the Royals their first lead since early in the first half.

“Eerily similar to last year,” head coach Grant Leonard said, referencing last year’s season-opening win against Marshall. “I thought there were a couple times where High Point threw some really good plays at us and a couple good runs — and the crowd was the one that kept us in it. They were phenomenal.”

The gymnasium on the Myers Park-based campus was packed on Tuesday night. Queens students, clad in white, filled the middle section on the baseline, along with the bleachers behind both baskets. The Royals donned t-shirts that said “White Out” while shooting around pregame.

Queens only led for seven of the game’s 40 minutes, but they came when it mattered most.

A pair of free throws from junior forward BJ McLaurin, who finished with 18 points, gave the Royals a 71-69 lead in the final two minutes, then High Point junior guard Duke Miles answered with a 3-pointer. Queens moved quickly in transition, and freshman guard Kobe George’s shot was blocked.

Queens trailed, 72-71, with 30 seconds left. McKee was aggressive on defense, drawing a jump ball — as the possession arrow pointed in the Royals’ favor, setting up his late heroics.

“Just happy to be in the win column,” McKee said.