CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- Shagari Alleyne provided the lift Kentucky needed.
The tallest player in school history at 7-3, Alleyne changed the complexion of the game with three straight dunks in the second half as the eighth-ranked Wildcats pulled away to defeat Ball State, 73-53.
Alleyne, a sophomore from the Bronx with an eight-foot wing span, finished with 10 points off the bench and his defense helped Kentucky (2-0) dominate in the paint in the second half.
"Tonight, I felt a little more confident," Alleyne said. "It's just one game, but it shows how capable I am of working hard."
While Alleyne hurt the Cardinals (0-1) inside, Patrick Sparks did his damage from outside, hitting 4-of-7 3-pointers and scoring 20 points.
"I have a goal on this team as a leader and that's to bring my 'A' game every day," Sparks said. "Ball State came in and played with a lot of heart. They showed they're a good team and gave us a tough game."
Ball State, which has had a recent history of posting season-opening upsets, opened a 35-33 lead early in the second half, but Kentucky took control with a 21-7 spurt.
The loss snapped the Cardinals' four-game winning streak in openers. Ball State opened last season with a win over Xavier and kicked off the 2001-02 season with an upset of top-ranked Kansas at the Maui Classic.
Peyton Stovall scored 14 points and Dennis Trammell added 13 points for Ball State, which was held to 36 percent shooting (22-of-61).
"Kentucky has a great defense and that made the difference between the first and second halves," Stovall said. "We had a lot of unforced turnovers."
In the first half, Ball State outscored Kentucky in the paint, 16-14. In the second half, it was 22-6 in favor of the Wildcats.
"Kentucky is one of the top teams in the country because they play great defense," Stovall added. "There was no way we could win when we were making unforced errors and they were on a scoring run."
Kentucky opened a 22-14 lead on Randolph Morris' layup with 8:46 left in the first half before the Cardinals forged a 29-29 tie at the break.
After Sparks' 3-pointer gave the Wildcats the lead for good, 37-35, with 15:09 remaining, Alleyne dunked on consecutive Kentucky possessions to make it 50-42. His third dunk pushed Kentucky's lead to 54-42 with 7:39 left.
"He's really getting his timing down," said Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes, who contributed 10 points. "The biggest guy on our team gave us the biggest spark. He played really well."