LEXINGTON, Ky. — Morehead State delivered on its promise to make No. 8 Kentucky physically pay for anything it got Wednesday night.
What surprised the Eagles was that the young Wildcats didn't flinch in gutting out an 81-70 victory.
"We just tried to use our physicality and see if we could shake the other team," forward Milton Chavis said. "They won, so I guess they fought right with us."
Actually, Kentucky had to fight back against Morehead State, which took leads behind runs of 16-0 in the first half and 11-4 to start the second. The Wildcats answered both at the foul line, making 31 of 41 free throws after deciding to embrace contact with the Eagles.
Kentucky freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress benefited the most by combining to make 20 of 25 free throws. Goodwin scored a career-high 28 points, and Poythress added 20.
"My guys battled tonight against a great team on their home floor," said Morehead State coach Sean Woods, who played for the Wildcats from 1990-92.
"We gave them everything we had, we just couldn't hold on. You've got to tip your hat to Kentucky for sustaining, taking our blows and finding a way to win."
Milton Chavis scored 23 points for Morehead State. Maurice Lewis-Briggs added 13 points, and Drew Kelly had 10.
Kentucky shot 51 percent and outrebounded Morehead State 37-35. The Eagles' only consolation was beating the Wildcats 16-8 on the offensive boards.
However, the Eagles couldn't overcome 32 fouls, while the Wildcats had 12.
"We put ourselves in some situations where we were more foul-prone as a team," Kelly said. "We're never going to blame a referee for the foul discrepancy or anything. It was a hard-fought game, it was a very physical game and we just have to be more disciplined in where we place ourselves."
The start offered a hint that it might be a defensive struggle.
Nerlens 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.
Unfazed, Morehead State 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.
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 Julius Mays added a 3-pointer and a drive to provide breathing room at 60-50.
Hanging that long was more than the Eagles could have expected.
"We learned a lot about ourselves today," Woods said. "We learned that we can compete with some of the best teams in the country if we just stick to our guns.
"I'm happy with where we are right now."