By Casey Bannon
Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins kept telling Aaron Falzon to stay ready. Apparently, he got the message.
The injury-plagued redshirt junior, who before Tuesday night had only six points in 12 minutes of action this season, exploded for 21 points on six of seven three-point shooting to help take down Indiana 73-66 in an important conference game for the Wildcats.
“It’s hard to explain getting in a zone like that,” Falzon said after the game. “The last two, three years it’s been harder to get into with injuries and stuff. Sometimes I get it in practice, or I get it in the offseason but getting in it in a game is the ultimate rush, the ultimate feeling.”
Most recently battling a lower body injury, Falzon has appeared in only 33 games since his freshman season in 2015, when he started 29 of the 32 contests he saw action in.
“I kept telling him, I know you’re frustrated, I know you want to get out there, I haven’t forgotten about you, please stay ready,” Collins said.
With freshman Pete Nance out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness and the offense sputtering once again, Collins finally found a spot in the rotation for Falzon with seven minutes remaining in the first half and Northwestern trailing 20-13. In the next seven minutes, Falzon scored nine points, blocked a shot, took a charge and injected life into a Welsh-Ryan Arena littered with Hoosier red among its purple accents.
“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Collins said. “We just needed a shot in the arm and I felt like it was time to throw him in there.”
Before his well-timed arrival into the ballgame, the Wildcats were 1-8 from three and struggling to slow down Indiana’s freshman sensation Romeo Langford. Thanks to some much needed floor spacing created by Falzon’s hot hand, Northwestern would go nine for its next 11 from deep—none bigger than with 2:38 remaining in the first half, as Falzon came off a screen on the right wing and buried his third triple in four minutes to give Northwestern a 24-22 lead. While Indiana would hang around, Northwestern would never trail again.
“It’s really, really hard for a young kid like me, 22 years old, to be patient and wait on your moment but you have to believe it,” Falzon said. “Every day I would come and shoot, workout, get extra workouts in and hope my day would come. Today it came and I was ready for the moment.”
He wouldn’t be the only one with a night to remember, however, as senior Dererk Pardon scored 17 points on the evening — enough to give him 1,000 for his career. He added six rebounds and a pair of blocks in a tough matchup against Indiana’s preseason All-Big Ten center Juwan Morgan. Morgan led the Hoosiers with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Langford was held to 12 points on only 10 shots — thanks in large part to Pardon’s rim protection.
“It’s crazy,” Pardon said of his 1000-point milestone. “I don’t think I even had 800 points in high school. So to do it in the Big Ten, at this level, is surreal.”
Milestones and feel-good stories aside, it was an important win for a Northwestern team which came into Tuesday night 11th in the conference at 2-5. They are now tied with Indiana – now losers of five straight – at 3-5.
“Everybody talks about the teams that are in the mix to do something, and we want to be a part of that,” Collins said. “We understand that you have to win, and you have to win at home, if you want to be a part of that mix. So tonight was a big game for that and it was a huge win for us.”
The Wildcats will head back out on the road this Saturday to face Wisconsin. After nearly doubling his season total in minutes on Tuesday, Collins says there’s no reason that Falzon wouldn’t see some quality time against the Badgers.
“I’m sure he’s going to get another chance on Saturday,” he said with a laugh.