Unranked Virginia Tech starting three freshman and two sophomores, upset No. 1 Memphis State, 69-56, in a Metro Conference game before a sellout crowd in Cassell Coliseum tonight, It was Tech's first victory over a top-ranked team.

Memphis State (11-1, 1-1) had just been elevated to the No. 1 spot today by United Press International following the upset of Indiana by Ohio State Saturday.

"Virginia Tech played exceptionally well," said Memphis State Coach Dana Kirk. "We didn't handle the ball like we have been. We stayed in our game plan, but really sputtered in the spread offense. If you don't execute in the spread, it can really hurt you. It did tonight."

Reserve guard Reggie Steppe, one of Virginia Tech's few seniors, led the Hokies with 21 points, including 15 free throws in 17 attempts. Guard Dell Curry scored 16 points and forward Bobby Beecher, another freshman, had 12.

Keith Lee, Memphis State's 6-10 all-America, got into early foul trouble and finished with six points, making two of 13 shots. Tech (13-1, 2-0) made five fewer field goals (20 of 53 to 25 of 57 for Memphis State), but was 29 for 39 from the free throw line. Memphis State made six of 14 free throws. The Tigers committed 28 fouls, Virginia Tech 17.

"The difference was the way we played defense and hit the boards," Tech Coach Charlie Moir said. "I thought the defense bothered them a lot; they didn't get a lot of shots. Considering their size, I think we did a heck of a job on the boards."

Kirk blamed some of the loss on Lee's foul problems. "We really missed Keith on defense. He came out smoking with several blocked shots. We've got guys to take up the scoring slack, but losing Keith on defense really hurt."

Memphis State took a 4-0 lead, capitalizing on Tech's mistakes. The Tigers led, 15-8, with five minutes gone, and their only flaw seemed to be foul trouble--mainly Lee's.

With 18:36 remaining in the first half, Lee was assessed his first foul, slapping Beecher on a base line jumper. Foul No. 2 occurred just over three minutes later when he jumped over the back of Beecher. It was No. 3 a minute later at 14:10 that turned things around. Kirk decided Lee had enough for the half, and put in freshman Baskerville Holmes.

Tech took advantage of Lee's absence, cutting the lead to 19-18 with 8:04 left in the half. Tech took the lead when Steppe scored on two fast breaks, and the Hokies led at the half, 33-28.

With Lee back in for the second half, Memphis State started big, cutting Tech's lead to 39-38 with 15:10 remaining. State's surge was led by forward Bobby Parks, who scored 24 points, 14 in the second half. His three consecutive field goals put the Tigers ahead, 43-39, with 12:33 remaining.

After a timeout, Tech finally got its offense going. With balanced scoring, Tech retained the lead, 51-46, with 7:08 remaining. From that point on, Tech didn't have to worry.