SALT LAKE CITY — Trevelin Queen stood in a dark corner near the tunnel inside Vivint Smart Home Arena, his grey hood up, watching the Kansas-Northeastern game get underway. Thirty minutes earlier, Queen, a junior guard at New Mexico State, had sprinted to that same corner of the court, caught an inbounds pass from his teammate AJ Harris, and hoisted the three that could have taken down No. 5 seed Auburn. But it clanged off the front rim as the horn sounded, and Queen’s 6'6" body crumpled to the floor like a marionette without strings.
What was he thinking as he stood here now, looking at that same spot?
“I’m thankful that I’m here,” he said, bummed yet buoyant. “I never thought I’d be at March Madness. Knowing my teammates and my family are here with me, I’m just acknowledging God and thanking Him for putting me here.”
Had Queen’s shot descended six inches to the left—“I felt like I rushed it a little”—he’d be the toast of the tournament’s first day. He would have been surrounded by national media at this moment instead of whispering in the dark to a single reporter. He probably wouldn’t spend as much time explaining all the little plays that helped the Aggies fight back from an eight-point deficit with two minutes left. He’d be talking about the shot instead of all the times he or an Aggie teammate made an improbable play to trim the Auburn lead, to force open the Aggies’ tiny window of hope.
It was hard to notice in real time, but after each of those plays, Queen would walk away from the action, close his eyes and mutter to himself, or cross his heart with his fingertips.
“I was just thankful,” he says now, explaining those moments. “I started out at a juco in California, then went to New Mexico Military Institute. I committed to Western Kentucky. That didn’t work out, so I had to find another school. I had a relationship with Coach [Chris] Jans and [assistant coach David] Anwar. They believed in me, and here I am.”
Queen, a wispy role player, only became eligible to play for New Mexico State in December. He scored 14 points against Auburn—five days after exploding for 27 in the WAC championship game. The well-traveled Maryland native was the Aggie who kept gathering his teammates together during dead balls as they waged their comeback on Thursday against the SEC giants. “I just tried to keep them from being distracted. We kept saying, ‘Fight for each other. Keep fighting.’”
The Aggies were down by nine with 5:46 left when Queen hit a three to cut the lead to six. With 41 seconds left, Auburn had a four-point lead and the ball, when Queen deflected a pass that tipped off an Auburn player’s hand and landed out of bounds. Queen wasn’t muttering after that play, he was flexing and bounding around, exhorting the tiny contingent of Aggie fans behind the scorer’s table. Thirteen seconds later, Queen hit a three from the left wing that brought his team within one, 73–72.
With just over a second left, teammate Terrell Brown missed a free throw, but the scrappy Aggies battled for the rebound until it caromed off an Auburn player and onto the baseline. New Mexico State ball.
“The last play was supposed to be an alley-oop,” Queen said, recalling the moment that would have played on screens across the country all tournament long if his final shot had come off his hand a little truer. “I saw [two Auburn players] switch and collide so I popped to the corner.” He pauses, staring at the painted hardwood where he received Harris’s pass, leapt, and released.
“Sometimes you make ’em, sometimes you miss ’em. But it’s how you handle yourself after the situation. We fought, so there’s nothing to be mad about now.”
He removes his hood.
Harris and Johnny McCants, the only Aggie who outscored Queen (McCants had 16) had immediately embraced their fallen teammate after the 78–77 loss. “They just told me, ‘Keep your head up. I love you, man. Stay positive, there’s a lot more life to go.’”
The Jayhawks and Huskies were sprinting around out there now, their sneakers squeaking, their championship dreams still breathing—Kansas would soon end Northeastern’s hopes—as Queen looked around the cavernous arena one more time before retreating into the tunnel and filling a styrofoam plate with pasta. “I still can’t believe I’m here. Win or lose, just looking at this crowd—I’m really at March Madness. A few months ago I was sitting at home not knowing which school I was going to be at. Now I’m here, my mom and dad are in the stands.
“This is a dream come true for me.”