Penny Hardaway is a prodigious recruiter who has brought No. 9 Memphis back to national prominence in college basketball. In Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, he has arguably the two most talented freshmen on one team.
Yet last week, after a win over Western Kentucky, Hardaway turned his focus on forward DeAndre Williams.
"I've got to have more from him, because I know he's capable," Hardaway said.
He got more Wednesday night when the Tigers passed their first test of the season with a 69-61 win over Virginia Tech. Williams led Memphis with 16 points and 10 rebounds, more than making up for off nights by their talented freshman duo.
Hardaway hopes Williams and the rest of his highly hyped teammates can win the NIT Season Tip-Off Friday night in Brooklyn, New York, where they'll meet surprising Iowa State in a battle of 5-0 squads.
Memphis struggled on offense, making just 39.3 percent of its field goal attempts and also committing 14 turnovers. Its shot and pass selection at times left a lot to be desired. But the Tigers' defense more than made up for those shortcomings.
Exposing the Hokies as a system team, Memphis overwhelmed them early with quickness and length. Virginia Tech worked so hard to bring the ball up and get into some semblance of an offense that it struggled to find quality shots.
The Tigers limited the Hokies to 33.9 percent shooting from the field and then finished most defensive possessions with a rebound. Memphis earned a 45-33 rebounding advantage.
That was enough to offset a combined 15 points from Duren and Bates, who sat out large chunks of the first half after drawing two quick fouls. But the Tigers flashed their terrific depth, outscoring Virginia Tech reserves 26-5.
Meanwhile, Iowa State validated its four straight home wins by upsetting No. 25 Xavier 82-70 in Wednesday night's first semifinal.
Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington became the first Big 12 player to ring up 30 points in a game this season, hitting 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range and establishing a new career high.
Brockington got some much-needed help from freshman Tyrese Hunter, who tied his career high with 19 points. Minnesota transfer Gabe Kalscheur added 12 points and George Conditt IV scored 10.
"The thing I like about our group is that we have some depth," first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger said. "We're playing nine guys every game and it's been different guys who have stepped up for us. What I'm learning is on a given night, different guys can do the job."
A lot of players did the job in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second half, when the Cyclones rattled off a 24-9 run to erase Xavier's one-point halftime lead. The Musketeers couldn't get closer than five over the remainder of the game.
"We know basketball is a game of runs," Hunter said. "How we came out for the second half is how we have to finish."
An Iowa State win against Memphis likely would vault it into the Top 25 on Monday.
--Field Level Media