The Lions won two games and had LeMoyne-Owen by the throat but blew a five-point lead in the final 90 seconds to drop their semifinal matchup.
Paine coach Jimmy Link said his team learned from the experience.
“They realized we can make a run in the tournament,” he said. “I expect guys like Jerel (Stephenson) and Kedric (Taylor) and Kenny (Fluellen) to step up their games.”
Paine (12-14), an East No. 3 seed, begins the SIAC Tournament at noon Tuesday with a rematch against LeMoyne-Owen (6-20), a West No. 6 seed. The winner advances to play the Clark Atlanta-Stillman winner at 7:45 p.m. Thursday.
In women’s action, the Lady Lions (11-15), also an East No. 3 seed, face LeMoyne-Owen (2-24). The winner advances to play Kentucky State at 1 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
All games are at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
The Paine men are expecting the return of Fluellen, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury. The junior guard is the team’s third-leading scorer (10.8 average) and top 3-point shooter (50 for 130).
All-conference guard Mario Jordan leads Paine with a 14.6 scoring average and is followed by Stephenson, who averages 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. Taylor has scored in double digits in six of the previous nine games.
After getting off to a 2-6 start to the season, Paine finally climbed back to .500 after defeating Morehouse on Feb. 16. The Lions closed with a pair of losses.
“We played a tough nonconference schedule, and I think it’s helped us,” Link said. “We’ve played every team tough, too.”
Sophomore guard Ashley Watts, the SIAC Newcomer of the Year, leads the Paine women with a 19.9 scoring average. Center Kiara Johnson was named the league’s Freshman of the
Year after averaging 8.0 points and 12.1 rebounds a game.