Men’s Basketball: Pardon’s perfect shooting, dogged defense guide Wildcats to victory


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Dererk Pardon throws down a dunk. The junior center had 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting against the Badgers.

Ben Pope, Managing Editor

Men’s Basketball

Asked on Wednesday about improvements Northwestern’s offense needed to make, junior center Dererk Pardon emphasized “being confident in our shot.”

Then the 6-foot-8-inch center lumbered into Madison and embodied that sentiment on Thursday night.

Pardon made all eight of his field goal attempts — three layups, two dunks, two tip-ins and one jump hook — and added a free throw, tallying a game-high 17 points in all as the Wildcats (14-10, 5-6 Big Ten) earned a 60-52 win over Wisconsin (10-14, 3-8).

“He’s an anchorman. He fights for every inch — it’s who he’s been his whole career,” coach Chris Collins told reporters after the game. “He’s down there and he’s the back of our zone, so he’s got to talk, he’s got to … rebound and block shots. He played like a man tonight.”

And Pardon did it while matched up against 6-foot-10-inch center Ethan Happ, far-and-away the Badgers’ best player.

Happ was a third-team All-American last year (making him one of the top 15 players in the nation) and entered the season as a viable National Player of the Year candidate. He currently ranks sixth in the Big Ten in points per game (17.4) and fourth in rebounds per game (8.5). Pardon arguably won’t face a more experienced and talented opposing big man in the conference all year.

Yet Thursday, Happ was held under both those averages, tallying 14 points — on just 6-of-13 shooting — and five rebounds. He turned the ball over four times, too, and wasn’t able to force NU to double-team him and leave someone else open like he does against many teams.

It’s not easy when you’re dealing with a kid like Happ,” Collins said. “He’s such a unique player and they move him all over the court. He can pass, score and make plays, so I was proud of our communication tonight against him.”

It wasn’t entirely rosy for the Cats in the paint, as they did lose the offensive rebounds battle 14-6 and conceded 10 second-chance points, but their 28-24 edge in points in the paint nonetheless was the fourth straight game with an advantage in that category. For a team that was outscored by 42 points in the paint by Nebraska and Penn State to begin this winter conference slate, that is a remarkable accomplishment.

Pardon certainly deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that. Gone are the ugly, ineffective post-ups after being force-fed the ball; in their place are creative low-post passes and scrappy rim protecting. Over the past six games, he’s scoring at a 76 percent clip offensively and defensively handled the likes of Happ and Penn State’s Mike Watkins.

Only because of that consistent, maintained development was Pardon able to say what he did after Thursday’s victory.

“I was just doing what I normally do,” he said.

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