Now that final exams have been completed and the Christmas holidays are behind them, members of the LSU basketball team begin one of the most important stages of the 2014-15 season.

With only two nonconference games to be played over the next six days, LSU has to fine-tune its game before plunging into the Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule on Jan. 8 at Missouri.

LSU (9-2) will be trying to wrap up the nonconference schedule on a high note with home games against Southern Miss (5-5) at 6 p.m. Monday and Savannah State on Saturday night.

Against Southern Miss, the Tigers will seek to extend a winning streak that reached six games with a 71-47 blowout of College of Charleston on Dec. 22 in their final game before getting a three-day Christmas break.

LSU, which hasn’t lost since dropping a 64-61 decision to Clemson in its third and final game at the Paradise Jam on Nov. 24, definitely has to accomplish some things in these next two games before entering conference play.

The Tigers returned to campus on Friday to begin preparing for the USM game with practices that night and Saturday before a walkthrough on Sunday.

“It’s been good for a team that had been off for a few days and away and not practicing,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “The guys have been really sharp and practice has been really good.

“It has been as though we haven’t had any time off, and that’s a very good sign,” he said. “We were able to pick up practicing where we left off when we broke for the holidays.”

Jones said point guard Josh Gray, who sprained his right ankle in a win against Sam Houston State on Dec. 13 and missed the next two games, has been practicing and should play dress out and play against USM.

Gray is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 11.1 points a game and leads the Tigers with 4.7 assists per game.

“Josh has been practicing and we look forward to him playing against Southern Miss,” Jones said. “He’s had a couple of really good days of practice.”

That’s good news, he said, coming off a one-week break.

“It has been a layoff for us and we look forward to getting back out there on the floor,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we are able to continue to improve as we get ready for conference play.”

Notes

Fans can purchase $2 tickets to the USM game by presenting a canned food item donation for the Baton Rouge Food Bank. Tickets will be available at the upper concourse ticket windows at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center beginning at 4:30 p.m. … ForwardJarell Martin, who leads the Tigers at 16.9 points per game, is working on a streak of six consecutive double-digit scoring games. … The Johnny Jones Radio Show will not air this week because of the holidays. The show will resume on Monday, Jan. 5.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.