Curtravious Smith can tell the difference between Paine's basketball team this season and the Lions of last year.
"We've got a lot better chemistry this year," the senior forward said. "We play harder."
Paine played hard enough in the second half Monday night to pull away for a 78-55 win over Kentucky State at Carter Gym.
After winning just eight of 29 contests last season, the Lions are off to a 2-1 start.
Against the Thorobreds, Paine shot 49 percent from the field, including 62 percent in the second half.
"We're more together this year. Last year, we had a lot of individuals," said senior guard Najee Tolbert, who posted 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Lions. "This feels great. It's a little better at 2-1."
Paine opened the season with a win at Claflin, which advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament last season. The Lions then returned home Saturday and committed 26 turnovers in a six-point loss to Lane.
Paine bounced back against Kentucky State, jumping out to a 13-point, first-half lead.
The Lions committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the first half, and their lead fell to 29-22 at halftime.
"We recognize we made some poor decisions in the first half," Paine coach Ron Spry said. "We didn't want to make those same mistakes in the second half."
The Lions got off to a fast start 20 seconds into the second half when Geno Green popped a 12-foot jumper. Later, Tolbert swished his third 3-pointer of the game to push the lead to 40-30 with 15:16 remaining.
Paine converted 18 of its 29 field-goal attempts after halftime. Julian English scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. Green posted 16 points, 10 boards and six blocks.
Kentucky State (0-3) had no answer for the Lions.
The Thorobreds shot 33 percent from the field and made just three of 14 attempts from the perimeter.
"We know we have to pick up our defensive intensity," Tolbert said. "That's one thing we've been focusing on this season."
Tolbert drained a 3-pointer midway through the first half to extend Paine's lead to five. After Mario Jordan's driving layup, Tolbert swished another 3-pointer. Paine led 16-6.
The Lions pushed their lead to 21-8 in the first half before the game got out of rhythm.
In the final four minutes of the half, the teams combined to shoot 18 free throws, allowing the Thorobreds to close the gap at halftime.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.