LINCOLN—Just a few days ago Dererk Pardon wasn’t even in Northwestern’s plans for this season. Wednesday, he was dominating Nebraska in the Big Ten opener for both teams.The freshman had 28 points and 12 rebounds in his second college game and led his team back from a 12-point second-half deficit in an 81-72 victory.The Wildcats (13-1) won their 10th straight game and are off to their best start since the 1930-31 season. The Cornhuskers (8-6) are 0-5 in Big Ten openers since joining the conference in 2011-12.Pardon scored 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field in the second half, and he finished 11 for 14. Six of his seven offensive rebounds came after halftime.Northwestern coach Chris Collins activated Pardon on Sunday because of a foot injury that will keep 7-foot senior Alex Olah out indefinitely.
”I’m happy coach Collins gave me the opportunity, my teammates believed in me and I just went out there and did what I was supposed to do – help my team win,” Pardon said.
Collins said he initially decided to redshirt Pardon because he didn’t think he would be able to give significant minutes to the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder from Cleveland. In addition to Olah, the Wildcats also have the 6-foot-10 Joey van Zegeren.
”Just an outstanding performance by a young player who we had really high hopes for coming in,” Collins said. ”We thought we got a gem with him. He was an under-the-radar recruit that we felt had a chance to be really good, and his work ethic and his ability to be ready when called upon like he was when Alex went down was amazing.”
The Huskers had no answer for Pardon in the low post, and he scored nine points as the Wildcats were whittling a 51-39 deficit to three points. Scottie Lindsey’s 3-pointer from the corner tied it 60-all with seven minutes left.
”My coach told me to keep on attacking their guys and keep on attacking the glass,” Pardon said. ”I saw that Nebraska got a little tired. I kept pushing and running and got open opportunities.”
Tre Demps finished with 17 points and Aaron Falzon had 12 for the Wildcats, who made 8 of 9 free throws in the last 1:34.Andrew White made 5 of 8 3-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the Huskers, and Benny Parker had career highs with 17 points and five 3s.It was the second straight game Northwestern came back after being down double digits. The Wildcats erased a 14-point deficit to beat Loyola (Maryland) on Sunday. Pardon had six points and four rebounds in that game.
”The game was moving pretty fast for me, way different than high school,” he said. ”I had to slow myself down. That’s what I felt I did this second game. I feel like Loyola was a big learning curve. I played hard. The mistakes I made that game I didn’t make this game.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats held a 40-25 rebounding advantage. … Bryant McIntosh, coming off a 33-point game against Loyola, was held to 11 but had eight assists against one turnover.Nebraska: Parker had seven assists and two steals to go with his 17 points and five 3s. … Lost for the first time in five all-time meetings with Northwestern in Lincoln.Northwestern’s 55-percent shooting and 46 points in the second half didn’t sit well with Nebraska coach Tim Miles, and neither did his team’s nearly five-minute field-goal drought late in the game.
”It was just a really disappointing game,” he said. ”Down the stretch, I thought we got hesitant after Andrew went on his little burst and run. It seemed like after that no one wanted to shoot.”
Collins joked that because of Pardon’s remarkable performance, Olah was going to have the same fate as Wally Pipp. Pipp is the New York Yankees player who sat out a game because of injury in 1925 and never got his starting job back. Lou Gehrig replaced him and started 2,130 consecutive games.”He’s from Romania,” Collins said of Olah, ”so he doesn’t know what a fastball or curveball is. I told Alex I have a project for you tonight. I want you go to home after practice, I want you get on your computer and I want you go google the name Wally Pipp.”
As Olah walked to the team bus Wednesday, a reporter asked him if he knew about Pipp. Olah smiled and said, ”Oh, yeah.”