Men’s Basketball: Dererk Pardon sidelined with hand injury, Northwestern looking to alternatives in his absence

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Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Dererk Pardon challenges a shot inside. The sophomore center injured his hand in the Wildcats' win over Wake Forest.

Garrett Jochnau, Sports Web Producer


Men’s Basketball


Northwestern sophomore starting center Dererk Pardon underwent surgery on an injured hand and will be reevaluated after non-conference play, the program announced Thursday.

The injury, sustained by Pardon in the team’s win over Wake Forest on Monday, decimates an already thin frontcourt and may force backup Barret Benson into the spotlight after the freshman center struggled to get playing time in his first few games.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Just last year, it was Pardon who found himself thrown into the fire after center Alex Olah suffered a foot injury toward the end of the non-conference slate. The circumstances forced coach Chris Collins to burn Pardon’s redshirt, setting the stage for the 6-foot-8 center’s breakout 28-point performance in just his second collegiate contest.

With Pardon sidelined, Collins has to hope that the next man up can capture a similar magic.

“He’s gonna have to play, and I’m excited for him,” Collins said of Benson. “It gives him an opportunity to get extended minutes and find his way. The best way to get better at this level is playing, and he’s certainly going to have an opportunity to get heavy minutes.”

In seven games this year, Pardon led the teams in rebounds with seven per contest. He also pitched in just under 7 points per game on a respectable 57.6 percent shooting, adding 2.6 blocks to boot.

Benson has yet to log more than six minutes in a game and will be forced to adjust to college play immediately, just as Pardon did last year.

“He’s going to be put into a tough spot really quick,” junior forward Gavin Skelly said. “Coach expects a lot out of him, and we all do. And we know he can do it.”

Skelly will also be crucial as the Cats look to stay afloat without Pardon. The 6-foot-8 forward is off to a hot start this season, playing both alongside Pardon and serving as his primary backup. Though not a prototypical center by any stretch, Skelly’s athleticism and energy have helped him carve out a substantial role in the rotation that will only increase in Pardon’s absence.

“I’m a tough matchup as a five because I can post and I can shoot,” Skelly said. “So it adds versatility to our offense and to our defense as well.”

But Benson’s status as a true center could lead to him shouldering a heavy burden while Pardon is out. At 6-foot-10, Benson stands above the rest of his teammates, and he’ll now have to figure out how to use that size on the fly with little room for error. As Collins noted, NCAA basketball is fundamentally different than high school ball from a speed standpoint, and Benson’s feet are barely wet.

Heading into Saturday’s game against DePaul (4-1), the freshman is aware he’ll need to elevate his play. But he’s also confident in his ability to do so.

“I need to rebound better,” Benson said. “That’s obviously been visible. But that’s going to happen these next few games, so we’ll be good.”

And although there are going to be more eyes on the freshman center, Benson doesn’t have to duplicate Pardon’s 28-point showstopper from last year to make a splash.

Collins stressed that he doesn’t need Benson to be a savior. Rather, if the freshman center can prove himself a worthwhile rotation player capable of holding his own, NU will be in good shape, he said.

“It could make us a better team,” Collins said. “We know we’re going to get Dererk back. … So the good part about it is maybe we can find another guy in Barret.”

Email: garrettjochnau2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @GarrettJochnau

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