“Our offense just stops.”
That’s how Loyola coach Porter Moser described his team’s play the last six games with star guard Milton Doyle sidelined an ankle injury.
The Ramblers, who had a top-100 offense in non-conference play, have struggled to put the ball in the hoop since Doyle went down. In those six games, Loyola is scoring just 0.93 points per possession.
The offensive flow is gone. That’s because Doyle, who won MVC Freshman and Newcomer of the Year awards last season, did just about everything in Loyola’s offensive attack.
A 6-foot-4 sophomore, Doyle is the type of talented player that schools like Loyola are fortunate to snag. He’s a player that all Missouri Valley Conference coaches consider to be one of the premier players in the league.
Doyle is a lethal scorer who can both attack the rim and shoot from the outside. He is also the team’s best passer and facilitator. With his career scoring average of 14.3 points per game, it’s easy to forget he is also averaging a team-best 4.2 assists this season.
On the defensive side, Doyle is also a lockdown defender, thanks to his quickness, athleticism and high basketball IQ. Although defense has not been as much of a problem for Loyola during this stretch, the team could use him there, too.
Moser has looked to junior guard Earl Peterson, a junior college guard in his first season with Loyola, to help fill Doyle’s place.
“I think it’s changed a lot,” Peterson said of his adjusted role. “The team looks for me to create a lot, not only for myself but for them as well.”
Loyola’s offense has shown some signs of life recently, although it still lacks the firepower from November, December and even the start of January. The Ramblers have eclipsed the 1.00 point-per-possession mark by a hair in the last two games.
It comes as no surprise that those two games were also two of Peterson’s best as a Rambler.
The 6-foot-3 guard recorded 12 points and 3 assists in a win at Missouri State. As the Ramblers held off a Bears comeback attempt, Peterson made several key plays.
First he found senior Joe Crisman for a layup at a critical juncture to tie the game 44-44. The Ramblers, who had led by as many as 15 points, had just trailed for the first time all game on the road.
With 2:15 remaining, Peterson drove baseline and found freshman Ben Richardson for an open 3-pointer in the corner to give Loyola a five-point lead. After Missouri State cut it back to one point in the final minute, Peterson made a difficult, contested runner.
“With Milton out, Earl is the next guy up that can really go get a shot or create a shot for others,” Moser said. “Like any junior college player, it takes him some time to get his feet wet and adjust. Earl has had his ups and downs and definitely had great games for us early on, but his consistency is really starting to come through since Milt’s been out.”
In a loss to Indiana State, Peterson carried Loyola’s offense with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go along with 3 assists. The junior called it his best individual performance of the season.
“I sort of was just seeing some gaps in the defense,” Peterson said. “I just wanted to penetrate and get all the way to the rim, and I was able to do that.”
Moser also saw Peterson stepping his game to a new level in that game.
“They just dominated our 1’s and 2’s, with the exception of Earl,” Moser said. “I thought Earl was physically matched with those guys. The rest of our guys weren’t in the ballpark with Scott and Brown. … He was the only one that really matched the intensity of Indiana State’s guards, and we need some other guys to really jump on board.”
Peterson is a natural two-guard, but he part of filling Doyle’s place means playing some point and creating for others. Fortunately for Loyola, he had some experience doing that at Coffeyville Community College.
“I don’t think it’s been hard for me to do,” Peterson said. “At Coffeyville I had to do it a lot. I’m getting used to it a lot more now on this level, so I think it’s coming pretty easy.”