“What can you say about Dererk Pardon?” Chris Collins pondered at his post-game press conference.
No more than an hour earlier, Pardon was on the ground in what seemed to be significant pain. He grabbed his ankle. His teammates crowded around, and the crowd, which had been repeatedly riveted in the last hour by his rebounds, dunks and blocks, was silent.
In unison, the crowd of 7,108 knew the answer to Collins’s half-joke, half-question: “M-V-P.” The big man hopped up, and a few minutes later, when Pardon left with 19 points and a career-high 22 rebounds, those three letters again filled Welsh-Ryan Arena.
On a night when Scottie Lindsey was limited by a sore back, Bryant McIntosh’s shooting woes continued and Vic Law was quiet in the first half, Pardon’s Most Valuable Player performance couldn’t have come at a better time.
There’s just something up with Pardon and Nebraska.
Maybe it was that Lincoln provided the backdrop to his Big Ten debut, when he dropped 28 points and 12 rebounds. Or perhaps Pardon was looking to make up for a lackluster performance against Ohio State, in which the sophomore shot just 1 of 7 from the field. Regardless, the Huskers continue to have no answers for Northwestern’s primary big man.
“We couldn’t get him under control,” Miles said. “That’s twice he’s got us. He hurt us on the offensive glass. We’re going to wear black next time because it seems like he likes red.”
Pardon is averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in four games against Tim Miles’s team. His career averages are 7.5 and 5.9.
Perhaps no stretch better captured the dominant effort, which included three blocks, a steal and just one foul, than the 49-second span between the 16:17 and 15:28 marks in the second half.
With Northwestern’s lead cut to just one, 34-33, Pardon caught an airball three from Isiah Brown, gathered himself with one dribble and scored off the glass with his left hand. On the other end, he played the passing lane perfectly on a pick-and-roll to ignite a Bryant McIntosh fastbreak three. Up to that point, Northwestern only had two fastbreak points total. And after Jordy Tshimanga pushed one in from a few feet away, Pardon got his sixth and seventh points in a row, throwing down a thunderous dunk off a pick-and-roll from McIntosh.
Later, the Cornhuskers tried to go with more size again, bringing in the freshman Tshimanga, who checks in at 6-foot-11 and 275 pounds. No luck there. Up 53-48, McIntosh missed a floater, but Pardon was perfectly positioned for a putback and a foul. Even after he missed the free throw, Northwestern was up seven. The visitors never got it to within a possession the rest of the way.
“We just knew we had to step on their throats,” Pardon said. “They’re a good team, and we knew if we gave them any inkling of hope, they would take advantage.”
But it wasn’t just the offensive performance — six of his boards came on the offensive end and he shot 8 of 11 — that was particularly impressive. His work defensively, as usual, was fantastic. Nebraska has the fourth-best offensive rebounding percentage in the Big Ten, grabbing 33.3 percent of its misses. Against Northwestern, they still managed to grab 15 offensive rebounds, but Pardon counteracted this by corralling 16 defensive rebounds by himself.
“He has a knack for the ball, he knows the angles, he’s long,” Collins said. “He’s always been a great offensive rebounder, but to get 16 defensive rebounds is awesome.”
Pardon had no explanation for his outstanding performances against the Cornhuskers — “It’s just a coincidence. I have no clue.” — but whatever it is, Northwestern can certainly use more of it. A showdown with Indiana big man Thomas Bryant awaits on Saturday.
On a night where the hosts’ leading scorer struggled, they needed someone to step up. Right on cue, Dererk Pardon stepped up and delivered one of the most dominant individual performances in Northwestern history.