By the dozens they came to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Tuesday night, the curious, the bored, the people who always slow down and gawk when they see a Tigers crash.
Maybe they came — no more than 2,000 of them I reckon — to see if that old Arsenio Hall joke about the Los Angeles Clippers holds true for LSU basketball:
You can sit right down by the court, and they might let you play.
They probably didn’t come for the history, but they got a gruesome glimpse of it anyway. LSU lost 98-75 to Auburn, its 14th straight defeat, tying that most ignominious of school records for consecutive defeats.
The last time LSU lost this many in a row was during the 1966-67 season. Half a century ago. Pete Maravich was a freshman, and freshmen were ineligible then. The story goes Pistol Pete would pack the Parker Coliseum across campus for the freshman games, then only a few hundred diehards would remain to watch the hapless varsity team clunk and sputter through yet another defeat.
Not that they wanted it, but the 1966 and ’67 LSU basketball teams have some company.
It’s kind of like that now, only there is no Maravich-like savior on the horizon. LSU sort of had something like that last season, but Ben Simmons is now in the NBA, sort of, not playing but collecting a check from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Antonio Blakeney is this LSU team’s Simmons, its Pistol Pete. He’s worth watching and clearly has been given the offensive green light, pouring in 29 points against Auburn. And why not? He’s the best LSU has, and lately he’s been matching his team’s loses with a string of 20-plus point games that has now reached five straight. He deserves a better team around him.
Other than that, and a couple of thundering dunks by Brandon Sampson in the first half, the PMAC was more the Dead Dome than the Deaf Dome.
Except for the jokes, which could clearly be heard above the nonexistent din.
At the end of the LSU basketball band’s rather ironic rendition of “Victory for LSU” in the first half, a band member yelled out, in perfect time with the music, “Fire Johnny Jones!” At the end of the game, as backup Brandon Eddlestone splashed a feel-good, but meaningless 3-pointer, some of the few LSU students mockingly danced around like LSU just punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
A program as a punch line. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
A year after the Simmons experiment gone awry, it looks like we’re witnessing the death of a basketball program. That’s not really true, of course. You can’t kill a college basketball program. It’s not like LSU can cite poor attendance and financial hardship (as documented in an Advocate story Tuesday, LSU basketball does make money) and threaten to move its team to Capella University.
But this season is hardly a journey, it’s a funeral cortege. Though his team needed the win after three straight losses, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl could sympathize.
“It’s rough,” Pearl said. “It’s a grind. Johnny (Jones, LSU coach is) doing a good job keeping this team together. Next year will be better for them.”
Better for someone, perhaps. It’s hard to see it being better for Jones.
LSU players said before the game they weren’t dwelling on the possibility of the program having a new coach next season. Jones himself said Monday he wasn’t worried about his job security, only worried about preparing for Auburn. Brave faces, firmly applied. Even amid the mounting losses, even as Jones’ path forward looks impassible, there is something to respect in that.
Afterward, Jones didn’t sound optimistic, rather more like a man under siege.
“We’ve got to keep pressing forward,” he said. “We have games on our schedule and we must play them.
“We continue to fight.”
If this season was a fight, they would have stopped it.
LSU has at times looked spirited during this streak of doom, surprisingly so in a 92-85 loss Feb. 7 at Kentucky. Then there are times like this game, and its 96-76 loss at Ole Miss on Valentine’s Day night, when LSU looks like it goes into sleep mode.
This one was actually tied 47-47 with 17:45 remaining on a Duop Reath dunk. Then Auburn ran off 10 straight points like Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters and the rout was on. Again. LSU now has given up 90 or more points nine times and lost by 23 or more three times – at home.
Having watched his team’s losing streak climb to 13 games Saturday, one shy of tying the sch…
There are only so many statistics anyone wants to hear about regarding this woeful season. The real question is will Jones be dismissed and when and if athletic director Joe Alleva will do something about it.
Alleva has made no public comments during this dismal spiral, but he was watching courtside Tuesday night, sitting directly across from the LSU bench. He saw the porous defense, the woeful rebounding, the lack of a cohesive offensive plan and, certainly, the mere smattering of fans in the stands.
One has to believe Alleva will make a move by season’s end and replace Jones. It seems as likely as LSU’s next loss, which is scheduled for Saturday at Georgia.
Maybe a change will be good for all concerned, even Jones.
Because what’s going down this season at LSU certainly isn’t good for anyone.