LSU coach takes responsibility for disappointing season
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Coach Johnny Jones expected to be anywhere but conducting a season-ending news conference on the LSU campus Tuesday afternoon.
Despite having the projected No. 1 NBA draft pick in Ben Simmons on the roster, Jones and the Tigers struggled down the stretch to finish with a 19-14 record and no appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
''I'm disappointed we're here and not playing in the NCAA tournament at someone's site,'' Jones said. ''We came off a year where we went to the NCAA Tournament. We had players returning and a top recruiting class coming in. There was a lot of hope. We fell short and I assume all responsibility.''
The decision was also made Sunday that LSU would not participate in the NIT.
So, Simmons' college career ended, in all probability, with a frustrating 33-point loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Tournament semifinals.
Jones acknowledged that he has not spoken to Simmons the past two days and would not say if the freshman attended classes this week. But the coach sounded as though Simmons' basketball days at LSU were over.
''There has been no announcement (about the NBA) on Ben yet or when he will make a decision,'' Jones said. ''It has been a joy coaching him. Ben brought a great deal of excitement to our team and our program. Not a lot of coaches have the opportunity to coach the No. 1 high school player in the country.
''I would take a one-and-done like Ben again. He is someone with good parents who is well grounded. Ben is a team player, so much so that people were fussing that he did not shoot enough. If you want to bring a guy into an environment where he was not going to disrupt the team, Ben would be that guy.''
Jones said there are some very good teams in the NIT and that the Tigers would have been without Keith Hornsby and Antonio Blakeney for a first-round game. Hornsby had a second surgery for a sports hernia last week. Blakeney participated in the SEC Tournament while dealing with an illness and would not have been able to play this week.
''It's very challenging where you have to go on the road to play,'' Jones said. ''There are no neutral-site games. When you go, you have to be at your best. You must do what's in the best interest of the players. Sometimes, that is not a popular decision.''
On the floor, Jones acknowledged that defensive issues led to his team's difficulties throughout the season. LSU averaged 79 points per game, but it allowed 77 points per game.
''We were really efficient offensively,'' Jones said. ''What we must continue to work on is what happens on the defensive end of the floor. It has to do with concepts. You need to have the guys who have the will and want-to to play defense. You have to recruit that type of guy.''
For the first time in three seasons, Jones does not have his team in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. LSU lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game to North Carolina State last March. Two years ago, the Tigers were beaten by SMU in a second-round NIT game.