SALT LAKE CITY — If you've been watching Northwestern all season, Dererk Pardon stepping to the free-throw line to take high-pressure shots in the NCAA tournament might not have been the most confidence-inspiring sight.
But Pardon, who shot 51.7 percent from the charity stripe this year, stepped up in a gigantic way.
In the final four minutes and six seconds of Northwestern's 68-66 win over Vanderbilt on Thursday, Pardon knocked down six free throws, helping the Wildcats at the most critical of times.
But while that was something that surprised all onlookers, it didn't catch any of Pardon's teammates by surprise.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Scottie Lindsey said. "That's a part of his game that he works on all the time. He takes pride in trying to be a good free-throw shooter, and today it worked out. He was very clutch for us down the stretch."
"I shoot free throws with Dererk all the time, and he makes every one," Sanjay Lumpkin said. "He'll go 10-for-10 multiple times. We all have confidence in him to knock them down."
Well he sure did Thursday, and it's hard to imagine the Cats winning without Pardon making those six shots.
Vanderbilt shrunk what was once a 15-point second-half lead down to two with about five minutes to play. After both teams took turns missing 3-pointers, Pardon hit the first two to stretch things back to five with about four minutes left.
Vandy kept coming, and the second pair of foul shots came a minute and a half later, when three straight Commodore free throws sliced the gap to just a point.
Vandy kept coming, and the Commodores had a lead with a minute and a half to play and again with 38 seconds left. Pardon again hit two free throws, this time in the final minute to tie the game and then put the Cats back on top.
Pardon's free throws didn't just go in, they were as big as they come.
"I just had to focus," Pardon said. "I feel like when I focus, I make my free throws. A lot of times when I miss them, I'm not as focused. So I just had to focus in, lock in, and I felt like I was good.
"That's the moment I think about all the time in practice when I'm shooting my free throws: down one or down two, and I have to make both or I have to make one. Having that pressure on during practice where it comes game time, you knock them down."
Pardon has obviously been a huge part of things for Northwestern this season, and Thursday he was statistically the team's second-best performer, putting up a double-double for the fourth time this season. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"He's got a quite confidence to him. He's a man of few words, he doesn't say much. He works his tail off," Chris Collins said. "After every practice, there's nobody in the gym more. He's doing free-throw shooting games, pressure free throws with coaches, with other teammates. He's worked incredibly hard. And he's got a calmness to him that I love. It wasn't going well for him in the first half, he had some turnovers, they were doubling him, getting the ball out of his hands. And he just steadied it, and I thought he played a fantastic second half."