After climbing to first place in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in January, the Lions dropped three in a row. That didn’t sit well with the players.
“Everybody was mad,” sophomore guard Darius Smith said. “Coach (Jimmy Link) had a meeting and we all talked about it.”
Smith swished three buckets in a row down the stretch Thursday night and Paine broke out of its recent funk with an 83-74 win over Stillman at Richmond Academy.
The Lions improved to 12-8 overall, 11-7 in league play. Paine now plays host to conference leader Tuskegee (12-8, 12-6) at 4 p.m. on homecoming Saturday.
Smith shot 7 for 8 from the field, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Mario Jordan also posted 16 points with a team-high 10 rebounds, while Kedric Taylor added 10 points.
Paine shot 58 percent from the field in the second half. The Lions led 36-31 at intermission, extended their lead to 14 points after a Jordan free throw with 14 minutes remaining.
Paine appeared to put the game in cruise control when Jeffrey Wherry warmed up on the perimeter. After halftime, Wherry drilled five 3-pointers, his three from the right wing closing the gap to 70-66. Wherry followed with a layup to pull the Tigers within two.
With the Lions clinging to a 72-70 lead, Smith went to work. He popped a free-throw line jumper to extend the lead to four. Then, Smith canned a 17-foot jumper from the top of the key.
After Nate Nash missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Smith swished a 17-foot jumper from the right baseline with the shot clock down to one second. With 1:42 remaining, Paine led 78-72.
“I’ve got such a new team,” Link said. “I think we’re still learning how to step on someone’s throat.”