MOREHEAD — Morehead State played zone defense Saturday night.
Eagles center Drew Kelly, meanwhile, was in a zone. Kelly scored a career-high 26 points to rally Morehead to a 57-54 victory over Ohio Valley Conference archrival Eastern Kentucky.
"My teammates kept telling me to be aggressive, don't worry about missing those easy early buckets," said Kelly, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound sophomore. "They kept lifting me up the whole night, and I thank them for that. They're the reason I played so well."
Kelly, whose previous best was a 21-point outburst against Tennessee Tech last year, shot 7-for-12 from the floor, 12-for-16 at the free-throw line, and had six rebounds, a category that Morehead dominated 34-20.
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The Eagles (9-10, 3-3 OVC) have another big game Wednesday, versus undefeated Murray State. The Racers will be the first ranked team to play in Johnson Arena, which opened in December 1981.
Kelly's big night helped Morehead overcome the loss of three of its top six scorers.
The leader, Terrance Hill (13.3 points per game), suffered a season-ending knee injury during a New Year's Eve game. Saturday, Marsell Holden (8.6 ppg) and Milton Chavis (7.5 ppg) served a one-game suspension for what Coach Donnie Tyndall called "an internal, in-house situation." He said he expects both players will be available Wednesday.
Angelo Warner, a 6-3 guard, played strong in support of Kelly. He finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and no assists before fouling out.
"Angelo Warner proved himself tonight to be one of the best freshman in our league," Tyndall said. "That's a heck of a stat line for a freshman."
EKU (10-9, 4-3) was led by Jaron Jones with 15 points and six rebounds. D'Mitri Riggs added 13 points and Mike DiNunno had 12.
"They're so hard to play against because they always control the tempo, and you're not going to get them sped up, and you're not going to force them to do things they don't want to do," Tyndall said. "And at the end of the day, you feel like you just hope they miss shots."
Thanks to Morehead's tight zone, EKU shot 13-for-42 (31 percent). The Eagles went 19-for-42 (45.2 percent).
Tied 25-all at halftime, Eastern opened a 36-29 lead with 12 minutes left. Morehead came back with a 25-10 rally to lead 54-46 with 1:29 left.
Kelly scored 13 of the 25 and Warner had seven. Warner got the last four of those points at the foul line.
"The first free throw I shot, I was kind of nervous," Warner said. "But I just kind of calmed myself down and thought about my past history in shooting free throws, and just knocked them down."
Eastern wasn't done.
Riggs drained a three-pointer with 1:15 left.
The Colonels forced a turnover, and Joshua Jones stopped and popped a trey with 1:00 left.
Then, Jaron Jones came up with a steal and drew a foul. He converted both ends of a one-and-one with 45.9 seconds left to tie at 54.
Kelly made one of two free throws with 19.6 seconds left.
After back-to-back time-outs, EKU got the ball to Jaron Jones. He tried for a reverse along the baseline, but found Kelly blocking the way. The shot wasn't close.
Warner added two free throws with 6.5 seconds left.
Jaron Jones' three-point attempt to tie hit off the iron, and the horn sounded before Joshua Jones could get off a final try.
EKU Coach Jeff Neubauer was pleased with the effort, considering it came in an OVC road game.
"If you can put yourself in a position where it's a one-possession game and you have the ball at the end, then you're doing something good," Neubauer said. "And we did get the ball right in the middle of the lane to Jaron. I was pleased with that last possession.
"We didn't convert on that one, but obviously there were some plays earlier in the game that cost us."