Loyola coach Porter Moser finally faced the facts after Loyola limped to a poor loss Sunday at Southern Illinois. His star player, sophomore guard Milton Doyle, is just not the same after re-injuring his ankle nine days ago in a loss to Wichita State.
“I’ve got to just sit him,” Moser said on Loyola radio. “His ankle is just so bad. People have no idea how bad his ankle. He can’t push off. He can’t do anything. The kid’s just trying his tail off. He wants it so bad. He has no pop, no explosion. It was very difficult for us having him like that.”
Doyle has had several mediocre outings — by his standards, at least — since initially hurting his ankle in mid-December. But Moser has fallen back on how the once dominant scorer is actually having a better year than last season with his shooting percentages and assist numbers up.
That’s true. Doyle has been more efficient from the field while tallying more assists and fewer turnovers. But since aggravating his injury against Wichita State, even that has failed to be true.
Moser tried to remain positive after Sunday’s loss.
“He still throws in seven assists last game, six assists this game because he’s such a good passer,” he said.
But what he did not mention was that Doyle also had eight turnovers in those two games. Six of them came against Drake, which has the second-worst steal percentage in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The truth is Doyle has become a non-factor. He was practically invisible down the stretch of the Wichita State game. And in the last two games, he is averaging 5.0 points on 3-of-10 (30 percent) field-goal shooting. His assist to turnover ratio has been fine but not great.
Coaches like to have a “next-game” mentality. But Moser should be looking at the big picture here.
Hopefully he follows through on Sunday’s postgame comments and sits Doyle until the talented guard recovers, whether that takes one week or three weeks or more.
Loyola has a team that, when Doyle was healthier, looked like a legitimate threat in the Valley. The Ramblers stuck close with Northern Iowa on the road and then led Wichita State at halftime in Gentile Arena.
Although the Panthers and the Shockers will easily finish ahead of the Ramblers in the 18-game regular season, if the Ramblers got hot at the right time, winning three straight games at the MVC Tournament would not be out of the question.
But to have a chance at getting hot, Loyola needs Doyle at 100 percent.
With their résumé, maybe Loyola has a chance at a NIT at-large bid. That may make Moser want to keep Doyle in the lineup to give his team the best chance of winning each game moving forward.
But in terms of reaching the ultimate goal of a MVC Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance, Loyola needs to risk sacrificing some time without Doyle in order to have the best chance of winning when it matters most in March.