LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—The shooting touch that kept Austin Peay in contention against Kentucky through most of the second half failed the Governors down the stretch.
Gerald Fitch scored 14 points and No. 8 Kentucky withstood a second-half rally to beat the Governors 61-53 Wednesday.
Kentucky (8-1) never trailed, but needed 5-for-6 shooting from the line in the final minute to hold off Austin Peay, which trimmed a 17-point second-half deficit to 56-53 with 2:49 left.
Austin Peay squandered a chance to tie when Adrian Henning missed a 3-point attempt with 2:02 left. The Governors (3-7), the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions, missed their last four field-goal attempts and two free-throw tries.
“I wish we had played a little better offensively, but I don’t think that anybody can argue with the effort that these guys gave,” Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. “I was so proud of the way they battled back.
“Anybody on this level within three with two minutes to play has got to be happy. It’s disappointing we couldn’t have done better down the stretch.”
Chuck Hayes had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Erik Daniels added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Kentucky, which is scheduled to host ninth-ranked North Carolina on Saturday.
“They didn’t give up,” Hayes said of the Governors. “They kept fighting. Give them credit. They’ve got experience and they made adjustments. I’m definitely glad to get this one out of our system.”
Maurice Hampton scored 17 points in a reserve role for Austin Peay. Anthony Davis hit four second-half 3-pointers and finished with 15 points.
Austin Peay shot 5-for-24 from the field in the first half but improved to 12-for-23 in the second half.
Davis made three 3-pointers in a 14-2 run as Austin Peay cut a 41-24 deficit to 43-38 with 9:09 mark.
“We certainly needed some offense and he came alive,” Loos said of Davis. “We recruited him to give us some offense. He came alive and gave us a real spark this afternoon, so I hope he can give us some consistency.”
Austin Peay, which lost five of its last six, closed within 53-51 with 3:56 left before Cliff Hawkins hit a 3-pointer for Kentucky.
Hayes and Hawkins each converted a pair of free throws in the final minute to help seal the win. Kentucky finished 23-of-56 from the field (41.1 percent).
“This team played hard; we just didn’t play smart,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “We took some questionable shots. We missed five layups at the basket that we didn’t finish.
“It’s not a matter of effort. We’re just not getting enough people doing the right things, and then, give them credit, (Austin Peay took) things away from us.”
Kentucky charged to a 9-0 lead, but was then held scoreless for more than six minutes. Austin Peay failed to capitalize and didn’t score until almost five minutes into the game.
Smith, who has relied on a seven-player rotation most of the season, went deep into his bench midway through the first half and Kentucky’s starters didn’t return until nearly four minutes later.
“It was not benching them, it was to get more energy,” Smith said. “I wanted us to be fresh in the second half, but obviously, it didn’t work.”
Kentucky led 18-12 with 3:40 left in the half before scoring the final eight points, the last two on a dunk by seldom-used 7-foot-3 freshman Shagari Alleyne at the buzzer.
Kentucky is 24-1 against OVC teams, including 4-0 against Austin Peay.
The Wildcats, who were coming off a 65-56 loss to Louisville, have won the next game following each of their last 10 losses.