After the announcement that senior center and seven-footer Alex Olah would be out indefinitely with a foot injury Sunday, it was uncertain who Northwestern would turn to for size.
Coach Chris Collins decided to burn freshman Dererk Pardon’s redshirt, hoping that he would be able to contribute to the front line as the Wildcats entered Big Ten play.
It’s safe to say that it was a good decision.
In just his second career game, Pardon dominated Nebraska (8-6, 0-1 B1G) for 28 points and 12 rebounds, leading Northwestern (13-1, 1-0 B1G) to an 81-72 win in its Big Ten opener Wednesday. Simply, the young big man was everywhere. Pardon scooped up seven offensive rebounds, controlling the glass and scoring easy second chance opportunities, powering NU to victory.
The breakout of the lanky, nimble Pardon was nothing less than a savior for the Wildcats. The freshman will not put up these kinds of numbers every game, but if he can supply serviceable minutes and be even half as efficient as he was tonight, Northwestern will certainly be happy with the added depth he brings to the front line.
“With Van Zegeren and Olah, we felt like this year, for [Pardon], there probably wouldn’t be a lot of minutes available,” Collins told ESPNU. “You know what though, sometimes things happen in mysterious ways, and for [Pardon] to work so hard and be ready for this moment shows a lot about who that kid is.”
Before Pardon’s outburst, Northwestern seemed to be in some serious trouble. After a pretty even first half, the 'Cats in a good spot, leading 35-30 shortly before halftime. That is, until a 8-0 Nebraska run into the half completely changed the momentum. The Huskers came back out even more confident, extending their run to 21-4 and building a 51-39 lead with 17:44 to play.
But through clutch shooting and Pardon’s surprising prowess, the ‘Cats slowly chipped away, ultimately tying the game at 60 on a Scottie Lindsey three-pointer with 7:17 remaining. From there, the guard play of Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps combined with the presence of Pardon proved to be too much for Nebraska as the Wildcats pulled away for the victory.
Demps scored 17 points for the ‘Cats, while McIntosh added 11 points and eight assists. Freshman Aaron Falzon was 4-6 from three-point range, totaling 12 points in the win. After a 12-1 start to its season, this was an extremely encouraging victory for Northwestern to start Big Ten play. The Wildcats had a very easy non-conference schedule and a win in Lincoln now becomes its best win of the year.
Northwestern has an even better opportunity to make a statement on Saturday, Jan. 2, when No. 4 Maryland visits Welsh-Ryan Arena at 7 p.m. Seeking its first NCAA Tournament bid, Northwestern's critics have been citing its lack of wins against formidable competition. While the ‘Cats continued to prove they can win tough road games today at Nebraska, a win against Maryland would propel NU into the national conversation.
Northwestern will look to ring in the New Year with a huge statement, and Pardon will be called on to contribute heavily once again as Olah remains sidelined.