CARBONDALE – When Southern Illinois' basketball team left Redbird Arena on Jan. 5, a winter storm awaited the Salukis after suffering a 66-48 loss to Illinois State.
It would take SIU almost 24 hours to return to its campus, spending a night in a Tuscola church after getting stranded by blinding conditions on the interstate.
Prayers were needed for the Salukis, who were 4-11 and seemingly headed nowhere.
Almost two months later, as ISU and SIU meet again in Saturday's 3:05 p.m. regular-season finale at SIU Arena, things have gotten better for the Salukis. Much of the credit goes to Normal Community High School graduate Anthony Beane, Jr.
Beane's play skyrocketed after being moved to point guard. The 6-foot-2 sophomore has averaged 22.7 points in the last nine games. Beane has been named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week three times in the last four weeks.
"None of it surprises me how hard he works," said SIU coach Barry Hinson. "We get off the plane after a game and we get back late, and he's in here the next morning early getting better. He's a gym rat."
ISU (16-13) and the Salukis (12-18) could be facing each other again next Friday in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals in St. Louis. They will know if that is the case before tipping off.
The Redbirds are tied for third place with Northern Iowa and Missouri State at 9-8. SIU sits a game behind in sixth at 8-9.
If UNI loses at Indiana State and Missouri State falls at No. 2-ranked Wichita State, then ISU and the Salukis would meet in St. Louis regardless of the outcome.
ISU faced the same scenario last year. The Redbirds lost to UNI in the regular-season finale before facing the Panthers six days later in St. Louis and winning.
"It doesn't change it (the game plan) one bit," said Redbird coach Dan Muller. "You leave it all out there and figure out the next weekend once you know what you're doing."
ISU is trying to finish above .500 in the Valley for the first time since 2010. Meanwhile, SIU seeks to keep momentum going after winning six of its last nine games and would love to send off four seniors with a victory on Senior Day before what could be a sellout crowd.
"We both have a lot to play for," said Muller. "I'm sure each team feels it has more to play for than the other team. That's what you get at this time of year."
Muller said shifting Beane from off guard to the point after starter Marcus Fillyaw broke his hand isn't all that is different about the Salukis than the first time they played ISU.
Hinson also has moved two freshmen, forward Bola Olaniyan and off-guard Tyler Smithpeters, into the starting lineup. The 6-7, 225-pound Olaniyan is a physical presence who ranks fifth in league games with 6.6 rebounds, while Smithpeters has provided an outside threat.
Beane originally signed with ISU, but was released from his letter of intent when his father, Anthony Beane Sr., moved from the ISU to the SIU staff after Tim Jankovich left as the Redbirds' coach in May 2012.
Hinson is giving the elder Beane, who was an all-Big Eight Conference player at Kansas State, no credit for his son's success.
"We've done a study back to the days when his dad played and talked to his dad's former coaches and we've all come to the conclusion we are so thankful for (mother) Katina because there's no way, shape or form Anthony got any of this athleticism from his dad," said Hinson, laughing. "He was a great player, but he wasn't athletic."