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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Tigers passed their test with flying colors.
The 10th-ranked Memphis basketball team, employing every weapon in its arsenal and avoiding early foul trouble, defeated previously unbeaten Virginia Tech 69-61 in their opener in the NIT Season Tip-Off inside Barclays Center on Wednesday.
The Tigers (5-0), who moved up to 11th in KenPom's ratings, remain unbeaten and will face Iowa State (5-0) at 8:30 p.m. Friday in a winners' game. The Cyclones knocked off Xavier earlier Wednesday to set up the matchup.
Memphis closed the game on a 14-5 run, highlighted by four free throws from Emoni Bates and the first 3-pointer from Landers Nolley II since a Nov. 13 win over North Carolina Central.
“Really proud of my team,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “(We) played a really good Virginia Tech team. Everybody knows how they play. They move the ball, play great team defense, definitely one of the best shooting teams in the country. And to not play our greatest game – only having 10 assists – and still come out of this with an eight-point win, I’m proud of the guys.”
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday's game.
Story continues below links and photo gallery.
Early DeAndre Williams
After last week’s win over Western Kentucky, Hardaway made a public plea to Williams.
“I’ve gotta have more from him, because I know he’s capable,” he told reporters.
The Tigers’ senior forward responded with his best performance of the young season. Williams was a much-needed ignition switch, getting Memphis going to start both halves.
Lester Quinones’ 3-pointer started the scoring for the Tigers, then Williams went to work. He scored all seven of his first-half points in a row during a stretch that lasted less than two minutes. The second half played out similarly, as Williams scored Memphis’ first five points out of the break – the first a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired; the second a turnaround jumper that put the Tigers up 38-32.
Williams finished with a team-high 16 points, 10 rebounds and a steal. It's the first double-double of the season for Williams.
Malcolm Dandridge minutes
Jalen Duren, coming off the finest performance of his freshman season (20 points, 19 rebounds, five blocks versus Western Kentucky), landed in foul trouble with two fouls in less than a minute. That kept him on the bench for more than 14 minutes.
Enter: Malcolm Dandridge. The talented, yet tantalizing big man played more minutes in the first half (12) than he has in a game this season. And he made the most of them.
Dandridge scored six points before halftime (on 3-for-4 shooting) and pulled down five rebounds (two on offense).
His last one of the half was the biggest. With the Hokies trying to hold the ball for the last shot, point guard Alex Lomax came up with a steal and took off on a fast-break. Going for a layup with a pair of defenders in his way, Lomax passed to a trailing Dandridge who flushed a two-handed dunk as time expired to give Memphis a 33-30 halftime lead.
Dandridge put up eight points and eight rebounds in the win.
Tough sledding for top scorers
Bates, the Tigers’ second-leading scorer this season, struggled from the field again, hitting just 2 of 10 field goal attempts for the second game in a row.
But he wasn’t alone. A host of Memphis’ leading scoring options had a rough go of it against Virginia Tech. Bates, Duren, Quinones and Landers Nolley II combined for 27 points (nine of which came at the free-throw line) on 8-for-28 shooting.Tyler Harris, who led Memphis with 18 points in a win over Saint Louis, was 0-for-3 from the field with no points.
New starting lineup
For the first time this season, Lomax was not in the Tigers’ starting lineup.
Hardaway’s usual suspects – Bates, Duren, Quinones and Williams – remained in the starting five. But he inserted Nolley into the mix Wednesday.
Nolley, who started 25 of 28 games in 2020-21 during his first season at Memphis, transferred to the Tigers after he led Virginia Tech in scoring as a redshirt freshman. Although he scored just five points, his 3-pointer with 4:26 left in the game put Memphis ahead 58-56 — and for good.
Turnovers? What turnovers?
Four. Four turnovers in the second half was all Memphis committed Wednesday, by far the Tigers’ best ball security this season.
Last week against WKU, Memphis committed 26 turnovers. Against Virginia Tech, the Tigers had 14 turnovers but put the clamps down over the final 20 minutes.
Virginia Tech managed just three points off the turnovers. The Tigers also forced the Hokies into 13 turnovers.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball passes test against Virginia Tech: Our top takeaways