NEGAUNEE - Tuesday night's Negaunee High School boys basketball game might be a celebration for all things Miners, but the team itself will be all business when it takes on Maple City Glen Lake.
NHS (23-1) will be making its third straight appearance in the MHSAA tournament's Class C quarterfinals, but looking for its first win in that time.
"I think this group has a sour taste from what happened the last two years," Miners head coach Mike O'Donnell said. "We have a number of (current) players who have played in both those games.
Negaunee senior forward Tanner Uren (23) works the ball around Gwinn defender Kylor Skinner during the Class C district championship game played in the Modeltowners gym on March 8. The Miners look to advance past Maple City Glen Lake on Tuesday night in the state quarterfinals to get a berth in Thursday's Class C semifinals at Michigan State University. (Journal file photo by Zach Jay)
"I think it will help us, knowing what the process is of getting on the charter bus and traveling downstate. They understand what they need to do to prepare.
"I think we'll be treating this as more of a business trip."
Negaunee has lost to the eventual state runner-up the past two seasons, falling last year to Traverse City St. Francis, 71-59, and in 2011, to McBain, 57-51 in overtime.
He's also happy to be playing in Gaylord instead of Petoskey, where the last two quarterfinals took place.
"Petoskey has a really nice facility, don't get me wrong, but as far as our luck the last two years, it's nice to have this change of venue," O'Donnell said. "And besides, Gaylord is a place we're comfortable with, because we've gone there for team camp the last couple of summers."
Even though Glen Lake has an impressive 23-2 record, the Lakers have been also-rans in the Associated Press' top 10 state rankings in Class C.
And that was despite knocking off No. 4 TC St. Francis in the week before the tournament to give the Gladiators their only regular-season loss.
"I think our conference (the Northwest Conference) might not be highly regarded as we're one of the bigger schools in it," sixth-year Lakers coach Todd Hazelton said, though one of the Class D schools in its league, Frankfort, was undefeated through midseason and handed the Upper Peninsula's No. 1 Class D team, Cedarville, its only loss this year.
Meanwhile, Negaunee has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in Class ABC in the U.P. all season, and steadily moved up from No. 10 in mid-January to No. 3 in the final state AP Class C poll.
"From what I've seen and heard about them, these seem like fairly similar teams," O'Donnell said about the Miners and Lakers. "They aren't significantly different from us size-wise, either."
A consistent offense might be critical for the Miners on Tuesday night, since Glen Lake, like Negaunee, prides itself on its half-court defense.
"Offensively, it seems like we've been hit-and-miss during the tournament," O'Donnell said. "If we're shooting well from the perimeter, we'll get hot and get on a roll, but if we're struggling from outside, then everyone tries to jam up the middle against us.
"But what we've been harping on is that there is one thing you can do that will be a constant, and that is play defense. And we've done a good job defensively.
"Part of it is, too, that we create a lot of offense from our defense."
Whether it be steals or defensive rebounds, a missed opponent's shot can easily become a fast-break opportunity for the Miners' speedy players, even someone like their senior center, 6-foot-7 Brock Weaver.
"We're pretty well conditioned, and there never seems to have been a (tired) leg issue with our shooting," O'Donnell said. "Just sometimes our shot selection."
Junior point guard Tyler Jandron, who should get heavy all-U.P. and all-state consideration when postseason honors roll around, leads the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game, making 49 percent from the field and 75 percent at the free-throw line. These are numbers that include the Miners' four postseason games so far.
He and fellow starting guard Eric Lori, also a junior, combine to average just 3.5 turnovers per game despite being the team's primary ballhandlers.
Lori is No. 2 in scoring at 12.7 ppg, with senior forward Tanner Uren checking in at 12.2 ppg. Weaver is the only other Negaunee player at more than five points per game, averaging 7.6, and all four of those players hit 45 to 50 percent of their shots from the field.
Jandron also comes up with 4.3 steals, 4.0 assists and even 3.7 rebounds a game, with Uren the top rebounder at a 6.1 average clip and Weaver just short of averaging two blocks per contest.
For Glen Lake, 6-4 senior Mike O'Brien and 6-foot junior Carter Lee lead in scoring. In the Lakers' improbable 64-62 overtime win over Shelby on Wednesday that earned them their first regional title since 1996, O'Brien scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made seven blocks, while Lee had 23 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
The Lakers trailed by seven points with 25 seconds to go, but Lee made a basket, Parker Kokowicz a 3-pointer and Logan LaCross a tip-in just before the buzzer to force OT. They were Kokowicz's and LaCross' only points of the game.
GL had something to prove in that game, because just as Shelby eliminated Negaunee in the Division 6 football regionals last fall, the Tigers took out Glen Lake a week earlier in those same playoffs.
The Lakers opened the basketball regionals with a 70-44 thumping of Lincoln Alcona as O'Brien scored 25 points and Lee had 22, while Glen Lake clinched its district title the previous week by again beating St. Francis, 49-39, with O'Brien netting 14 points and Lee 12.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.