Men’s Basketball: Dererk Pardon pulls through under pressure for Northwestern
March 16, 2017
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SALT LAKE CITY — Dererk Pardon knew he needed to focus.
With 26 seconds remaining and Northwestern trailing Vanderbilt by 1 point, incredible pressure rested on the sophomore center’s shoulders as he stepped to the foul line — dangerous territory for a career 52-percent free throw shooter.
But Pardon approached the opportunity with poise. He said he ignored his prior struggles and filled his head with a single thought, a simple message from coach Chris Collins that put the situation in terms the sophomore understood well:
“It’s about toughness.”
“That was in my head the whole time,” Pardon said after Thursday’s game.
The big man drilled both attempts. The points lifted NU ahead — a lead the Cats would squander, regain and hold in the final moments of their 68-66 win in their NCAA Tournament debut.
Junior guard Bryant McIntosh ultimately contributed the decisive points from the line that put NU ahead for good. But Pardon, who opened March with a buzzer-beating layup over Michigan, redefined the word ‘clutch’ with three perfect trips to the stripe in the closing minutes of the first-round barnburner.
“They just fouled him on purpose,” Collins said. “And he went up and made six in a row. That’s a testament to the work he does everyday after practice — just hundreds and hundreds of free throws.”
The final pair capped a resurgent second-half effort from Pardon, who struggled through much of the contest.
Before halftime, the sophomore managed just 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting and committed three turnovers, adding another two early in the second period.
“(Collins) came to me at halftime and just said, ‘It’s a new half, just stay confident. We believe in you,’” Pardon said.
Sophomore forward Vic Law echoed that final sentiment before Pardon’s last attempts, the center said. And Pardon, focused and tough, rewarded their belief, sealing a 14-point, 11-rebound performance in dramatic fashion.
“Being in the situation for the first time, (it was a) really big growing experience for him to step up there and make those free throws when we needed them,” Collins said.