ST. LOUIS — Just four years since he was considered among the nation's hottest young coaching prospects, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery has seen the Salukis put up three losing seasons in a row amid sliding home attendance.

On Thursday, Lowery's boss said the seven-year SIU coach will keep his job.

Athletics director Mario Moccia said he would make unspecified changes involving Lowery's assistant coaches but won't be parting with Lowery, citing his work over seven seasons in Carbondale despite what Moccia called an unsettling "rough patch."

"Chris Lowery has my support," Moccia said, crediting Lowery with taking the Salukis — Lowery's alma mater — to the most NCAA tournaments in school history but acknowledging "our program is not where it needs to be at this point in time."

Moccia's vote of confidence came six days after the Salukis finished 13-19 with a narrow loss to top-seeded Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals. During the regular season, Southern Illinois faded down the stretch, losing nine of their last 10 league games while posting just five conference wins — the fewest since the 1995-96 team finished with four.

Moccia and Lowery conceded Thursday that Saluki fans expect better. In 2006-07, the Salukis — with its starting lineup intact from their 22-11 finish the previous year — posted a school-record 29 wins and grabbed its fifth regular-season league title in six seasons. At one point, the team was No. 11 in The Associated Press poll, the loftiest ranking in the program's history.

That season, the Salukis also came within an eyelash of making it to its first-ever round of eight, pushing top-seeded Kansas to the brink in the West Regional semifinal before losing 61-58.

Lowery, who then at age 34 was the tournament's youngest coach, won the league's coach-of-the-year title for a second time and found his name tossed around with various vacancies at bigger, higher-profile schools such as Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Stanford.

Since then, the program has gone just gone 59-67, partly because of player defections including five from the Salukis' heralded 2007-2008 recruiting class.

Those recruits "were supposed to be the leaders of our program right now, and for whatever reason they're not here," Lowery shrugged Thursday after having discussed player retention and other issues this week with Moccia. "Neither one of us are very happy with the state (the program) is in at this time."

"I completely understand that the program begins and ends with me, and we cannot continue the status quo going forward," added 38-year-old Lowery, who played point guard for three Saluki teams that made it to the NCAA tournament in the mid-1990s.

Home attendance has dropped despite a $30 million makeover in recent years of the schools barn-like SIU Arena that dates to the early 1960s. The 7,743 average from 2006-07 dropped to 4,188 this season in the same arena where Lowery went 28-0 in his first two years.

Disgruntled fans have clamored in recent weeks that Southern Illinois pay $2.25 million to buy out the three years left on a seven-year contract extension Lowery signed after the breakthrough 2006-07 season. Lately, the chancellor of the cash-strapped school undergoing furloughs has said publicly that none of its funds would go toward a buyout.

Moccia called any buyout talk "rumors" and said the chancellor supported his recommendations to turn around the program.

"We're certainly aware our fans were frustrated, upset," Moccia said.