AUBURN, Ala. — Louisiana State Coach Trent Johnson’s stare was menacing. His team was walking off the floor at halftime against Auburn last Saturday, and Johnson, angry at some calls, was fuming behind a wall of mad. The referee Doug Sirmons apparently felt sufficiently threatened to call a technical foul, without a word from Johnson.
That power of persuasion, along with the fundamentals of coaching, has enabled Johnson to take a tangled L.S.U. program — good recruits, bad results — and win the Southeastern Conference championship in his first season. The 20th-ranked Tigers are 13-3 in conference games and 25-6 over all headed into this week’s tournament in Tampa, Fla.
“I told them, ‘I’m not going to demand you do anything, I am going to ask you to do stuff,’ and they bought in,” said Johnson, whose team will play Mississippi or Kentucky on Friday. “We’re structured, that’s why we’re winning.”
At every step this season, Johnson’s players have cooperated with him. He has persuaded a veteran team, one with three seniors in the starting lineup, to accept roles. He leaned on the senior guard Garrett Temple to hold the Tigers together with defense, rebounding and passing. He gave the scoring reins to the senior guard Marcus Thornton and the junior forward Tasmin Mitchell, and he asked the senior center Chris Johnson and the senior forward Quintin Thornton to share the load in the post with rebounding.
Johnson brought along the sophomore guard Bo Spencer as the point guard to distribute the ball to Marcus Thornton and Mitchell.
“For me, if defending and rebounding are taken care of, then when it’s time to go the other way, you can go as fast as you want,” Johnson said.
Johnson also asserted himself over the Tigers’ academics. He scheduled eight home games to start the season, not to rake in the gate receipts, he said, but to keep his players on campus and in class so they could study and finish the semester strong.
“There are no gray areas with us as far as defense, rebounding or academics,” he said.
Johnson, 52, took Nevada to the N.C.A.A. tournament’s Round of 16 in 2004 and guided Stanford to the N.C.A.A. tournament in three of his four seasons there. In Baton Rouge, he has persuaded his team to win without swagger. When Spencer celebrated too exuberantly for Johnson’s liking after a win at Kentucky, Johnson snapped at him to get in line for the postgame handshake.