Men’s Basketball: Dererk Pardon’s game-winner seals critical Northwestern win


Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Dererk Pardon lays in the game-winning basket against Michigan. The sophomore center scored off a full-court inbound pass as time expired.

Max Schuman, Digital Projects Editor

Men’s Basketball

A lot happened in the last 1.7 seconds of Northwestern’s Wednesday night clash with Michigan.

After a missed 3 from Wolverines (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) guard Zak Irvin gave the Wildcats (21-9, 10-7) a baseline out-of-bounds set with the game nearly over and the score tied at 65, coach Chris Collins called a timeout and decided to go for the win. He passed the clipboard to assistant coach Brian James, described by Collins as “my special teams coordinator,” who drew up a potential game-winner.

The ultimate goal was to get the ball to sophomore big man Dererk Pardon near the rim. Pardon said the coaches had a simple message for him in the huddle.

“(James) told me to set a double screen … and he said ‘go long,’” Pardon said. “In so many words, he said ‘go long and score the ball.’”

Michigan coach John Beilein called a timeout to set up his defense after NU returned to the court, giving Collins and his staff another chance to walk through a play he said they’ve never run before.

Senior forward Nathan Taphorn was chosen to inbound from the baseline. He took the ball from the referee after the second timeout, ready to send it deep.

“You kind of mess around before, after practice, throw some long balls,” Taphorn said. “My goal was just to kind of throw it to the corner of the board.”

With the ball in his hands and 94 feet of court to cover, Taphorn waited a moment before lofting a one-handed, football-style pass deep down the court. Even throwing that pass was a risk — if the ball had landed out of bounds without being touched, Michigan would have received the ball under the Cats’ basket with a chance to win the game.

As the ball traveled through the air, Collins thought his risk might not have paid off.

“I was a little bit worried that it was going to airmail,” he said. “The way it was sailing, I said ‘Oh no. Not tonight.’”

But Taphorn said that when he saw Pardon turn and see the ball as it flew, he knew it was safe. NU’s 6-foot-8 center snagged the ball over 6-foot-1 Derrick Walton, Jr., and found himself free a few feet from the hoop.

In the end, it was a picture-perfect pass from Taphorn, leaving Pardon on the right side of the basket with time to gather himself. The big man went back up easily with his left hand off the glass to seal a 67-65 victory.

“I thought it was long. I thought it was going out of bounds at first,” Pardon said. “As I caught it, I was like, ‘the rim is right there.’”

Just 1.7 seconds of game time had elapsed, ending with a simple layup attempt. But like the rest of this crazy season for the Cats, filled with highs and lows and unbearable pressure, nothing about the play was as simple as it seemed.

And when Pardon’s attempt fell through the net, those 1.7 seconds faded into possibly the greatest moment in the history of an NU program on the brink of returning from the wilderness.

“It’s almost kind of fitting,” Collins said. “When you’re trying to do things that are really hard, it takes exceptional things sometimes.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @maxschuman28