Northwestern may have uncovered an unexpected advantage to losing top big man Alex Olah to an ill-timed foot injury.
It forced coach Chris Collins to reconsider sitting freshman Dererk Pardon this season.
In just his second game since deciding to burn his redshirt, Pardon unleashed a performance that suggests he is capable of making an impact. The 6-foot-8 big man came off the bench to score 28 points and grab 12 rebounds at Nebraska on Wednesday evening, leading Northwestern to a come-from-behind 81-72 victory in the Big Ten opener for both programs.
All but five of Pardon's points came during the second half as Northwestern mounted a rally from a 12-point deficit. Too often he decimated Nebraska via pick and rolls, pick and pops or on the offensive glass, most notably on a soaring two-handed put-back dunk that gave the Wildcats the lead for good with four minutes to play in the game.
While a road win at middling Nebraska typically isn't an attention grabber, this is a significant outcome for a Northwestern team desperate to remain in contention for an NCAA bid while Olah is out.
Olah, a 7-footer from Romania, averages 12.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks and scored 21 points in his most recent game prior to the foot injury. He had been instrumental in helping Northwestern (13-1) get off to a strong start against an admittedly soft schedule.
The best-case scenario in Olah's absence appeared to be modest contributions from the tandem of Pardon and senior Joey van Zegeren, but those expectations have risen considerably now. The long wingspan and considerable athleticism of Pardon make him a force on the offensive glass and he's clearly not quite as raw as many have suggested.
It's unreasonable to expect this sort of production from Pardon every night, especially since he'll be on the radar of opposing coaches from here on.
Nonetheless, if he can be a threat on offense and a formidable rebounder, it could go a long way toward keeping Northwestern in the hunt for its first-ever NCAA bid until Olah returns from his injury.
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