In the midst of a long season, there is often a spark - in the form of a player, a big moment, or a controversy - that propels a team through a season. If you’re a Northwestern basketball optimist, that spark occurred tonight and his name was Aaron Falzon.
Falzon scored 21 points on 6-7 shooting from 3-point land to lead Northwestern (12-7, 3-5 B1G) to a big win over the Indiana Hoosiers (12-7, 3-5 B1G) by a score of 73-66. Falzon’s outburst was completely unexpected, but it could not have come at a better time, as the ‘Cats capitalized on Indiana’s recent struggles to steal a win from what is probably a more talented team.
"I just kept telling him: I haven't forgotten about you. I just want you to be ready when you're called upon," said head coach Chris Collins of Falzon.
Outside of Falzon, Dererk Pardon (17 points, 2 blocks) was the only other Wildcat with a standout game. Vic Law continued his struggles, as he scored just 11 points on 1-8 shooting (and many of his points came via free throws in the game’s waning moments). His shot has not looked quite right since his injury, but Northwestern will need him back to full strength fast to keep winning Big Ten games.
Basketball is a game of momentum, and Tuesday night's game exemplified that. Indiana jumped out to a 14-6 lead behind strong play from Juwan Morgan (18 points, 11 rebounds) as Northwestern made just 2 of their first 8 shots. However, Pardon got the crowd at Welsh-Ryan going with this monster putback dunk.
The game briefly turned into a defensive battle as both sides forced shot clock violations and bad shots. With 8:50 left in the half, Collins made the decision to put in Falzon, who had scored 6 points all season.
“We we’re struggling to score. I’ve always had confidence in Aaron to make some shots...he was the hot guy so I went with him," said Collins.
Two minutes later, Falzon nailed his first trey off a Ryan Taylor (6 pts, 2 steals) assist. Less than two minutes later, he hit another one. Just about two minutes later, he hit a third to put the 'Cats up 24-22. And at that point it became clear that Falzon was going to be a large part of Tuesday night's Northwestern offense.
The Wildcats went into the break up 28-24.
The first ten minutes of the second half was, similarly, all Northwestern. Falzon continued his show with three more buckets from beyond the arc in a 3.5 minute span, in addition to going 3-3 from the line after being fouled on yet another attempt. Further contributions from A.J. Turner (8 points, 6 assists) and Taylor resulted in a 15-point Northwestern lead after a 27-16 run.
However, Indiana was not going to back down, and their battle back made the last 10 minutes some of the most exciting that Northwestern has played all year. With Indiana down 15, the Hoosier fans at Welsh-Ryan got rowdy as Indiana took the momentum. With about seven minutes remaining, an Aljami Durham and-one cut the Hoosier deficit to six. The vaunted Romeo Langford (12 points, 6 rebounds) followed that up with an and-one of his own, and it appeared that this might turn into another second-half Northwestern collapse.
But this night was different. With 3:29 remaining, Pardon laid down another huge dunk, and after a couple defensive stops (and a key offensive foul on Indiana), all Northwestern had to do was hit their free throws. Though the 'Cats kept it interesting - as Law missed two and Taylor missed three - they winded up on top with an important 73-66 win.
Northwestern advanced into a tie for eighth in the Big Ten with Indiana and Nebraska. The Wildcats will look for a 3-game win streak when they take on Wisconsin (12-6, 4-3 B1G) in Madison on Saturday.