Paine College assistant coach Hoover Johnson deserves some credit for the Lions' season-opening 90-79 win over Francis Marion on Tuesday night.
He was the person who found Gus Grissom's contact lens.
"He's got some good eyes," Grissom said of Johnson. "I thought I was in trouble for a minute."
Willie Adkinson scored 24 for Paine, and Yari Scott added 18 points and 11 rebounds. But it was Grissom who hit big shot after big shot for a career-high 29 points.
Paine led 47-44 with 16:15 left in the game when Grissom got poked in the left eye. With play stopped, his futile search for his contact lens lasted for about a minute. Then Johnson pointed to a clear object on the shiny floor inside Carter Gym.
"Hoover's got good eyes," Paine coach Ron Spry said.
With his contact back in place, Grissom got back in a groove. With the Lions' lead reduced to one, Grissom got his own rebound and scored on the putback. The Paine senior guard then drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Lions a little breathing room. Paine led 59-53.
The Lions (1-0) increased their lead to 11 on an Adkinson layup with 3:11 left in the game. But Francis Marion's inside game cut into the lead and Mike Buglione's trey pulled the Patriots within six.
Grissom stopped Francis Marion (0-2) from getting any closer. With 43 seconds remaining, Grissom connected on a high-arcing shot from the right corner. He later added a layup for his 15th and 16th second-half points - all coming after his contact was found.
"Gus did a tremendous job for us tonight," Spry said. "He made some tremendous baskets."
Paine looked sloppy in the first half of its first regular-season game, shooting 39 percent from the field. The Lions trailed by as many as 12, but used a 23-10 run to get back in the game.
In trouble underneath the basket 13 minutes into the first half, Paine's Nate Lewis rolled a pass to Grissom at the top of the key. Grissom drilled the open 3-pointer. The Lions led 25-24. Paine took a one-point lead into the break.
Paine now has a four-game road trip against Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foes - Lane College, Kentucky State, Miles College and LeMoyne-Owen. The Lions return home Dec. 12 when it plays host to Lane.
"It's important to get that first win, psychologically," Spry said. "I think it'll be a real challenge with those next four games. When you're a pre-season (conference) No. 1, it's a challenge. When you go on the road for four games, it's a challenge."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.
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