LEXINGTON, Ky. — Archie Goodwin scored a career-high 28 points, Alex Poythress added 20 and No. 8 Kentucky rallied past stubborn Morehead State, 81-70 on Wednesday night.
Their biggest contributions came at the foul line as the much-hyped freshmen combined to convert 20 of 25 free throws to help the Wildcats (3-1) fight back several times against the Eagles (3-2) before steadily pulling away in the second half.
Julius Mays added 11 points, and freshmen forward Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer each had nine. Noel also had 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Milton Chavis scored 23 points for Morehead State, which had runs of 16-0 in the first half and 11-4 to start the second. Maurice Lewis-Briggs added 13 points, and Drew Kelly had 10.
The Eagles committed 32 fouls, while the Wildcats – 31 of 41 from the line – had 12.
"We gave them all we had, but we just couldn't hold on," said Morehead State coach Sean Woods, who played for Kentucky from 1990-92.
Kentucky shot 51 percent and outrebounded Morehead State 37-35 but was beaten 16-8 on the offensive boards.
The start offered a hint that it might be a defensive struggle.
Noel made it a block party in the first 5 minutes, violently swatting away three Eagles shots to the delight of 21,897 at Rupp Arena. His second block was one for the highlight reel, where he jumped several inches above the rim to redirect Jason Holmes' jumper.
Six-foot-3 guard Angelo Warner had no chance minutes later trying to drive inside on Noel, who easily smacked his attempt away.
That defense gave Kentucky a 6-0 lead but Morehead State wasn't fazed and went on the 16-0 run. Consecutive 3-pointers from Lewis-Briggs and Jarrett Stokes capped the run, and Khalil Owens contributed a couple of baskets inside and Warner added a dunk.
Morehead State's lead grew to 11 at 25-14 as Chavis converted a lob pass before hitting a 3-pointer, while Kelly banked a shot. Pressure defense played a role in the Eagles' run as they denied the Wildcats passing lanes and disrupted their movement.
Kentucky coach John Calipari had warned his team that the Ohio Valley Conference school would do this and it took most of the first half for his players to adjust.
Morehead State paid a price for their aggression, 13-3 foul discrepancy resulting in a 14-2 free throw edge for Kentucky. That helped the Wildcats rally over the final 5 minutes of the first half for a 32-21 lead at intermission.
An 11-4 run over the first 2:48 of the second half put Morehead State back ahead, forcing Kentucky to rally again. And free throws made the difference as the Wildcats converted five straight before Mays added a 3-pointer and a drive to provide breathing room at 60-50.
Kentucky played again without sophomore guard Ryan Harrow, who left the team earlier in the day with his mother to tend to a family matter in Georgia. He had missed the previous two games with an undisclosed illness and is not expected to return before the weekend.