Men’s Basketball: Wildcats rally to overcome Nebraska in Big Ten opener


Daily file photo by Sam Schumacher

Photo caption: Tre Demps drives towards the basket. The senior guard was instrumental in Northwestern’s victory over Nebraska Wednesday, scoring 17 points in 36 minutes.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

After trailing by as many as 12 points early in the second half, Northwestern dominated Nebraska down the stretch and quieted a vocal crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena, prevailing 81-72 in their first Big Ten conference game on Wednesday.

Freshman center Dererk Pardon, playing in just his second career game, erupted for 28 points and 12 rebounds – including 23 and 11 in the second half alone – to lead the Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) to their 13th win in 14 games, the best start in school history.

NU overcame big performances by the Cornhuskers’ Andrew White III and Benny Parker, who hit 10 3-pointers combined and scored 39 points. The rest of Nebraska (8-6, 0-1) recorded just one 3-pointer and 33 total points.

Coach Chris Collins attributed his team’s resilient comeback to the experience they gained in last year’s Big Ten struggles.

“Last year we suffered … a lot of heartbreak. We lost ten straight league games. You find out how badly that hurts and you don’t want to go back to that place,” he said. “I think our guys have drawn upon those experiences and it’s really helped us in close games this year.”

The Cornhuskers began the game sharp on the offensive end, scoring on seven of their first 11 shots to grab a 16-10 lead.

But a critical 3-pointer by sophomore guard Scottie Lindsey jumpstarted the Cats’ response. Three 3-pointers by freshman forward Aaron Falzon in a span of 2:21 – two of which gave NU the lead at the time – paced a 13-3 run that gave the Cats a 26-22 advantage with 7:52 left until the break.

NU failed to score for the final 2:46 of the half, however, and Nebraska capitalized. White drained two shots in the final minute to cap off a run of 8 unanswered points for the Cornhuskers, giving the hosts a 38-35 edge at halftime.

Nebraska continued its offensive prowess early in the second half. The Cornhuskers momentum hit an apex when a Parker steal and layup gave the Nebraska a 51-39 advantage, its largest of the game.

Then the Cats’ comeback began.

Three-pointers from senior guard Tre Demps and Falzon, combined with a steady stream of points from Pardon, chipped into the lead until Lindsey tied the score at 60 with a swish from the beyond the arc in left corner.

Just over two minutes later, Pardon slam-dunked a missed shot to give NU its first lead since the first half: 67-66 with 4:03 to play.

Nebraska never regained control of the game. The Cats converted efficiently at the free-throw line throughout the final minutes to extinguish any comeback hopes, eventually finishing the contest on a 43-21 run.

“We finally started getting some stops, and then we hit some timely shots,” said Collins. “Lindsey made some big shots from 3 (point range) in the second half, Aaron Falzon’s shooting was big for us and then, of course, Dererk Pardon’s performance is incredible.”

In the shadow of Pardon’s breakout, Demps added 17 points for NU while sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh chipped in 11 points and eight assists. Falzon, meanwhile, shot at his highest efficiency from 3-point range (4-for-6) since the season opener against Massachusetts-Lowell.

NU also reigned on the boards, winning the rebound battle 40-25 (including 14-8 in offensive rebounds).

“We came here last year, and we were in the same type of situation where it was a close game at halftime and then we kind of squandered it away,” said Lindsey, referencing the Cats’ 76-60 loss at Nebraska on Feb. 3 where they trailed by just two at the break. “We just wanted to make sure we didn’t do the same thing (again this year) and we played hard and got the win.

The Cats next host No. 4 Maryland on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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