NEW YORK — Ricky Doyle wasn’t even the first big man off the bench for the Michigan men’s basketball team in its 70-63 win over Oregon Monday night. But that didn’t stop the crowd at the Barclays Center from chanting his name in the end.
It wasn’t so much a single play or sequence that solidified the freshman forward’s breakout game — a 10-point effort in the semifinal round of the Progressive Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York. However, it was the most complete game he has played since arriving in Ann Arbor.
Doyle spent 24 minutes on the court, shooting 4-for-5 from the field, adding three rebounds and picking up only one personal foul, all the while proving himself to be a needed piece in Michigan’s complicated frontcourt depth chart.
Still, one moment in particular stands out: a rebound and put-back with 26.1 seconds remaining to give the Wolverines a five-point lead over Oregon, one that roused a semi-full and somewhat sleepy crowd of maize and blue-clad Michigan fans to a standing ovation.
It was the first time Doyle had seen anything quite like it, and in an NBA arena to boot. Facing the media in a postgame situation for the first time, he didn’t mince words.
“I had never really experienced anything like that,” Doyle said. “It felt good.”
Doyle said he didn’t even see a particular aspect of play, motivation or external factor that upped his game.
“I was just feeling it tonight,” Doyle said. “And just doing whatever I can to pump the team up to get the win.”
Though the true highlights came on the offensive end, it was Doyle’s defensive efforts that kept him on the court. He cited his avoidance of “dumb fouls off the ball” as a strong point in his defensive effort.
“Defensively, I was doing what I practice,” Doyle said. “If I don’t foul and I do the right things, I’ll be able to stay in the game.”
Although it was Doyle who ruled the night amongst big men, it was senior forward Max Bielfeldt who had the first shot off the bench. He ended up playing just three minutes though, recording one rebound on the night.
Bielfeldt might have had another opportunity if not for Doyle’s heroics late in the first half.
“He finished a three-point play, but he finished it in a crowd,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, referring to Doyle’s and-1 with 3:49 left in the period. “I said, ‘All right, now we’ve got something,’ because it was a big-time play. … They have a great shot-blocking team, and he took it right through their chin and finished it.”
Doyle was hampered by injuries throughout the preseason and opening weeks of non-conference play, but he appears to have regained his health, and with it, his ability to contend for major minutes down low.
His presence, too, galvanized the New York-area Michigan fans in attendance into standing and roaring their approval. The Wolverines’ supporters could be seen streaming from bars and subway exits hours before game time, and numbered well over 1,000, filling up most of the arena’s lower bowl by the end of the night.
Though Michigan fans were at first reserved in voicing their pride, Doyle left them no choice in the end. The chant of “Rick-y Doy-le” reverberated throughout the arena as the game clock wound toward triple zeros, a fitting end to his first night as a star.