The arrival of Toby Veal didn’t go quite as planned Monday night.
While the senior center eased his way back into action after an almost three-year absence from the game, Paine posted its worst performance of the season.
Playing their fifth contest in 10 days, the Lions came out flat and never recovered, falling to Kentucky State, 83-61, at the HEAL Complex.
Paine (7-7 overall, 3-2 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) watched its three-game winning streak come to a halt. The Lions struggled on defense and were held well below their season scoring average (83.8). Despite all the recent play, Paine coach Jimmy Link didn’t want to blame the defeat on lethargy.
“If that’s what it is, they need to learn how to handle it,” said Link, whose team next plays Saturday at Fort Valley State. “I think we just came out flat and had no energy. Maybe that is a little bit because of fatigue. I don’t know.”
While Paine lacking energy on the floor, Kentucky State (3-8, 2-4) played its best game of the season. The Thorobreds took advantage of the Lions backcourt, penetrating through the defense to the basket. Kentucky State shot 55 percent from the field, including a 62 percent effort in the second half. The Thorobreds, led by Antonio Sullivan’s 18 points, shot 7 of 14 from the perimeter and drained 18 of 22 foul shots.
“We work on defense all the time,” Link said. “We played really good defense the past three games with help and talking. Today, I don’t know what it was. They were getting in the lane whenever they wanted.”
With 13:43 left in the first half, a handful of fans chanted “To-by, To-by, To-by” as 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior center Veal stepped on the floor. Veal, who saw his first game action since playing in the Final Four with Virginia Commonwealth in April 2011, redirected a shot on defense on his first play of the game before later picking up a steal. On offense, he missed his first shot around the basket, grabbed the board and missed again as he got fouled. Veal swished one of two free throws to tie the game at 11.
Veal finished 5 for 6 from the floor, including a thunderous dunk late in the contest, for 11 points in 20 minutes. He added two rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
“He’s still got to learn some things about what we’re doing,” Link said. “He’s talented as all get out. We still have to find a way to jell him with the team.”
Kenny Fluellen led Paine with 16 points. The Lions shot 47 percent from the field, but they added just six assists against 13 turnovers.