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Men’s Basketball: Once again, Northwestern deals with the problem of an inefficient offense when Dererk Pardon is quiet

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Men’s Basketball: Once again, Northwestern deals with the problem of an inefficient offense when Dererk Pardon is quiet

Dererk Pardon holds the ball. The senior center was constantly pressured in the post against Rutgers.

Dererk Pardon holds the ball. The senior center was constantly pressured in the post against Rutgers.

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Dererk Pardon holds the ball. The senior center was constantly pressured in the post against Rutgers.

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Dererk Pardon holds the ball. The senior center was constantly pressured in the post against Rutgers.

Peter Warren, Web Editor

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Men’s Basketball


For coach Chris Collins, there was one word to describe Rutgers’ defense against senior Dererk Pardon — smothering.

Three times during his press conference following the Scarlet Knights’ 59-56 victory over Northwestern, the sixth-year coach used the word to explain the effectiveness of the double-teaming Pardon faced throughout Wednesday’s game.

“They made a conscious effort to really take away Dererk Pardon,” Collins said. “They have a lot of big bodies. They were double-teaming him and smothering him. They weren’t going to give him any open opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 center is a focal point of the Wildcats’ offense, along with fellow senior Vic Law. But when it comes to efficiency, no one on NU (12-12, 3-10 Big Ten) is on his level.

Pardon is shooting 58.8 percent from the field on the season — 15.5 percentage points higher than anyone else — and a career-best 64.9 percent from the charity stripe. He is the school’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.

Twenty-six days ago at the Rutgers Athletic Center, the Cats defeated Rutgers (12-12, 5-9), 65-57, and Pardon was outstanding. He was 6-for-9 from the floor for a game-high 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said after Wednesday’s contest that Pardon was a “monster” on Jan. 18.

But Wednesday was different. Pardon was active early on — he had six of NU’s first 13 points — then a switch flipped. Over the last 31-plus minutes, the Cleveland native took one shot. He finished the game with only five shots for six points, and for the second time this season, did not go to the free-throw line.

“We have some pretty good size, just tried to be real active with him, tried to give him different looks with different players that have good length,” Pikiell said. “I thought we did a really good job not letting him get the catches where he wanted.”

His first shot, and first make, came on the second possession of the game — the only possession where the Scarlet Knights were in a zone — when he received a pass below the foul line, took a dribble, and hit a hook shot. His second make was a two-handed slam off a pick-and-roll where his defender, freshman Myles Johnson, hedged for a second too long and no help came from the weak side. His third was a jump hook over his right shoulder after receiving an entry pass early in the shot clock.

His two misses should have been makes. Pardon first missed a fast-break layup. Then, he had a hook shot clank off the rim three times.

“Last time we played them they said they made an adjustment at halftime to try to take him away because obviously he is a big threat in the paint,” junior forward A.J. Turner said. “We did a good job of getting him the ball and trying to put him in positions to score, even when the defense was trying to completely take him away.”

For most of the game, Pardon was getting post touches, but he would mostly be doubled and have to pass out of the post. But over the final five minutes, Pardon had two touches. One was him tipping a missed shot in the air and the other was him catching an inbounds pass and immediately handing the ball off to Law.

Collins said that the team tried to get him the ball early in the shot clock and in transition in order to counter Rutgers’ stifling defense in the post. But he added the Cats were unable to make the Scarlet Knights pay for the double team, which is the best way to free up Pardon to do his thing.

“In order to loosen that coverage up, you have to make jump shots. I thought we had a number of looks,” Collins said. “Overall, throughout the course of the game, we weren’t able to make them pay for really trying to smother Dererk.”

Wednesday was not the first time Pardon has been taken out of his comfort zone, and out of the offense, especially during crunch time. And most of them have been against teams with similar size to Rutgers, which have six players taller than Pardon.

The only two times Pardon has shot under 50 percent in a conference game have been against Maryland and Wisconsin — the teams with arguably the two best frontcourts in the Big Ten. The Terrapins start 6-foot-10 Bruno Fernando and 6-foot-10 Jalen Smith, two potential first-round picks. The Badgers start 6-foot-10 Ethan Happ, a favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, and 6-foot-11 Nate Reuvers.

In some of these games, Collins has elected to start junior center Barret Benson alongside Pardon. That choice has led to mixed results. Pardon dominated the first matchup against Rutgers and Benson played 23 minutes. But against Iowa and the Scarlet Knights over the last two games — both games Benson has started — Pardon has taken only 13 shots in 73 minutes of action.

Getting the ball to Pardon and letting him go to work is not a prerequisite for a win, but it helps, especially for one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten. But NU needs to be able to adjust when the double team arrives. And with seven more games left in the regular season, plus games in the Big Ten Tournament, Collins said he expects to see more of the same schemes against Pardon going forward.

“He’s proven that if you play him with 1-on-1 coverage, he’s a hard guy to stop. I think we are going to see more of that as the year goes on,” Collins said. “You just got to knock down the shots. Right now, we have been real up-and-down with our shooting. Hopefully, it will all come around.”

Email: peterwarren2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thepeterwarren

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