UP NEXT ARKANSAS AT LSU:

Good times AWOL in Baton Rouge

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, February 10, 2017
LSU head coach Johnny Jones watches play on the far end of the court in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La. Florida won 106-71. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
LSU head coach Johnny Jones watches play on the far end of the court in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La. Florida won 106-71. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The fans in purple and gold at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center haven't had a home victory to celebrate in men's basketball in nearly two months.

As the losses have mounted, apathy has set in and attendance has waned. The Tigers rank last in average paid home attendance in the SEC at 7,075 per game.

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The Tigers (9-14, 1-10 SEC) have lost 10 consecutive games since notching an 88-77 victory at Missouri in their second SEC game Jan. 4. LSU's home losing streak is at six games since a 75-65 victory over the College of Charleston on Dec. 19.

Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M have departed Baton Rouge in succession with a victory.

This is the atmosphere into which Arkansas, smarting from a two-game losing streak, descends into Louisiana's capital city Saturday.

Fifth-year Coach Johnny Jones, a four-year letterman at LSU under Dale Brown from 1980-1984 and a 13-year member of Brown's coaching staff, is under fire, despite an 89-65 record and the reputation of being one of the nicest guys in the business.

Jones caught heat last season for not making the NCAA Tournament with the nation's top recruit, forward Ben Simmons, a one-and-done signee and the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He has coached the Tigers to only one NCAA Tournament game -- a 66-65 last-second loss to North Carolina State in 2015, a game in which LSU blew a 62-48 lead.

Scott Rabalais, columnist for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, called Jones' job security "doomed" three weeks ago, when the Tigers' losing streak was just three games.

Ron Higgins of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans wrote after LSU's 92-62 loss at Texas A&M in mid-January that LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva won't have to fire Jones because "Jones is doing an efficient job of firing himself.

"With each stupefying bad performance, undeniable defensive breakdowns, absolute offensive confusion and a thorough lack of competitiveness, it's obvious Jones is done," Higgins wrote.

Wrote Rabalais, "So, it has come to this, this campaign that already looked like a mighty challenge in the post-Ben Simmons world with a mighty hot seat for Jones to coach from. LSU's season has gone from hopeful to hapless to a Shakespearean tragedy in sneakers."

And yet the Tigers -- even with six of their 10 SEC losses by 10 or more points, including a 106-71 meltdown at home against Florida -- are still playing for Jones.

LSU's last outing was a 92-85 loss at No. 15 Kentucky on Tuesday. Antonio Blakeney, a five-star signee last year with Simmons, scored 31 points in the loss at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari pointed out his disappointment in the Wildcats' lethargic finish in the game, but added, "But let's say this: How about LSU didn't stop playing. How about Johnny just kept them going. They're making threes and they weren't afraid."

Jones noted his team is young and has lost a load of talent early to professional basketball the past couple of seasons, notably Simmons, Jordan Mickey, Tim Quarterman and Jarell Martin. Mickey and Martin left after their sophomore seasons in 2015, while Quarterman departed after his junior season last year.

Jones also dismissed sophomore Craig Victor, a starter at center, from the team hours before the Tigers' SEC opener against Vanderbilt for an undisclosed violation of teams rules.

"We're maybe second to Kentucky with five guys in the NBA the last four years, and it's been a big turnover for us," Jones said on Monday's SEC teleconference. "This is a great league, and the guys that we had in the past I thought did a great job and allowed us to win 11 games in conference over the last couple of years."

Jones said there was "absolutely" negativity around the program.

"The thing is to keep our guys going, and we've just got to keep battling and fighting," Jones said. "I think our guys understand what we're dealing with ... and hopefully at some point we'll get a breakthrough.

"I can assure you it's not something that I've been through a lot. We're certainly going through it now, and we're going through it together. Hopefully we'll build and get stronger and better because of it."

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, who has known Jones for decades, hopes LSU's breakthrough comes after the Razorbacks are out of town.

"He's got a young team," Anderson said. "He's lost quite a bit [of personnel]. When you lose the player that's the No. 1 draft pick in the country, you're going to have a drop off. But he has some young kids that are playing well."

Anderson expects LSU's best shot based on the Tigers' solid showing at Kentucky.

"I know they're going to play good basketball," he said. "Even though they lost a game at Kentucky, I think the way they finished it, it's going to give them some confidence. And that's what we're searching for, confidence in winning. That's what we have to do. The only way you get confidence is by winning, and that's going to be our mindset going into this game."

Struggling Tigers

This season has been a struggle for LSU Coach Johnny Jones, who’s guided the Tigers to just one SEC victory going into Saturday’s game against Arkansas. Here’s a look at how his teams have fared during his five years as head coach:

SEASON RECORD (SEC) FINISH

2012-2013 19-12 (8-8) Tied for 8th

2013-2014 20-14 (9-9) Tied for 6th

2014-2015 22-11 (11-7) Tied for 3rd

2015-2016 19-14 (11-7) Tied for 3rd

2016-2017 9-14 (1-10) 14th

TOTAL 89-65 (40-41)

Sports on 02/10/2017

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