Men’s Basketball: Northwestern looking for rhythm following two record-setting performances


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Dererk Pardon dunks the basketball. The freshman center helped key one of Northwestern’s early Big Ten games against Nebraska, setting his own personal records of 28 points.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Northwestern has been rewriting history books a lot lately.

Last Saturday, the Wildcats (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) recorded their most decisive conference road win since 1944 with a 77-52 rout of Minnesota. Then on Tuesday, their 70-65 triumph over Wisconsin gave the team its best record to start in the conference season since 1968.

However, on Saturday against Penn State (10-8, 1-4), there are likely no records to be broken and no milestones to be reached. It is improbable that freshman center Dererk Pardon will repeat his performance his collegiate debut or that sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh will again score 20 points in a single half.

Instead, NU is simply hoping to settle into the rhythm of conference play.

We’ve approached this thing like it’s an 18-round fight,” coach Chris Collins said after Wednesday’s victory. “We’re just going to keep playing. We’re not going to overreact.”

Collins noted the Cats quieted chatter that their offense ran exclusively through 3-pointers by dominating Wisconsin down low, scoring 30 points in the paint and another 22 from free throws but taking only a dozen 3-point shots.

He said he hopes his team’s success with the out-of-character style of offense will give them confidence with strategy audibles in the future.

“I don’t want (my players) to feel in a game that if we miss some shots early, ‘Uh oh, we can’t win because our 3s aren’t going down,’” Collins said. “(If) these teams (are) taking away our 3s, then let’s go to Plan B. Let’s get to the basket and let’s play defense and let’s try to figure out how to get a win.”

Saturday, however, may offer a prime opportunity for NU to take advantage of their forte.

The Nittany Lions’ defense ranks fifth in the Big Ten in opponent 2-point field goal percentage but 14th — dead last — in opponent 3-point field goal percentage.

In particular, Senior guard Tre Demps could look to the favorable matchup as a chance for him to regain his shooting touch. Demps, who has shot a woeful 31 percent in Big Ten action so far this year, went 5-of-10 from the field and 2-for-4 from 3-point range against Penn State last season.

The Nittany Lions enter Evanston having lost four of their last five games, including three defeats by more than 16 points.

As of Thursday, they boast two of the top 12 players in the conference in terms of points per game — forward Brandon Taylor (16.2 PPG) and guard Shep Garner (14.6 PPG) — but have struggled to generate scoring from the rest of the team.

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers referenced that weakness after Garner struggled in his team’s 74-57 loss at Purdue on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, where we are, (Garner) can’t have a bad night,” Chambers said in West Lafayette. “That’s tough on a kid, that type of pressure and that type of stress.”

Saturday’s contest will be the fourth consecutive meeting between the Cats and Nittany Lions to have taken place at Welsh-Ryan Arena, with the visitors taking two of the past three.

Nevertheless, NU’s win over Penn State last season — a 60-39 rout on Feb. 21 — did prove noteworthy, marking the fewest points the Cats have conceded to a Big Ten opponent since 2005.

Perhaps if last year’s game was any indication, the history books will be rewritten again Saturday after all.

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