NEGAUNEE - It wasn't a conference game. It wasn't a tournament contest.
But the Marquette-Negaunee boys basketball matchup on Thursday night had all the feel of a league championship and a district playoff wrapped up in one package.
That wasn't surprising, since these nearby rivals weren't only playing for bragging rights on their local turf, but for the right to stake their claim as the best team in the entire Upper Peninsula.
Negaunee’s Tyler Jandron attempts to lay the ball in with A.J. Grazulis of Marquette defending during the second quarter at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee on Thursday night. Jandron scored a game-high 23 points as the Miners avenged an earlier loss to the Redmen in a matchup of the top two teams in the Upper Peninsula. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
The No. 2 Miners, playing at home in their Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium, delivered separate knockout blows in the middle two quarters to cruise to a 55-35 victory over the No. 1 Redmen.
Negaunee improved to 16-1 while Marquette slipped to 14-2. The Miners only loss this year was 59-43 at the MSHS gym on Dec. 13, the second week of the season.
Thursday's crowd was not only big, but spirited. Negaunee students were seen dressed as Big Boy, a gorilla and several as bananas, and Marquette's contingent, while smaller, was just as boisterous when the Redmen made a positive play.
"Make sure you give the crowd a big shout out," Miners 6-foot-7 senior center Brock Weaver said about all the extra energy he felt his team was given. He finished with five points and shared top-rebounding honors with six.
He also played a pivotal role in Negaunee's critical third-quarter knockout punch, helping draw fouls from Marquette's two senior big men, 6-7 A.J. Grazulis and 6-6 Mark Pap.
The pair each drew their fourth fouls 25 seconds apart late in the third quarter, forcing coach Brad Nelson to put them on the bench when they were most needed.
They came back just a few minutes into the fourth quarter, and Grazulis fouled out with 3:36 to go.
"That's one of the things we try to do, get the other team in foul trouble," said NHS junior point guard Tyler Jandron, who led all players with 23 points and five steals.
The big men were needed after Negaunee turned an 11-8 lead at the start of the second quarter into a 27-12 bulge with about two minutes left in the first half. Though the Redmen pulled back within 29-20 early in the third quarter, they never again whittled their deficit down to single digits.
"The first eight possessions or so, we had good looks," Nelson said about the start of the game. "(After that), we just didn't convert, and it changed the complexion of the game.
"It affected the confidence level of both teams."
He said it also didn't help that his team went 0 for 10 on 3-pointers, something it could've used when it trailed with its big men on the pine.
Pap led the visitors with 17 points and seven rebounds, with no other Redman scoring more than seven points.
For Negaunee, junior guard Eric Lori added 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and four steals. Seniors Tanner Uren and Andrew Katona each added four points and six rebounds.
Negaunee coach Mike O'Donnell said he had several purposes in mind to going inside.
"We wanted to go to the rim because the last time we played them we settled for way too many perimeter shots," he said. "Tonight, the guys got it inside, and if they collapsed on us, we kicked it back out to the perimeter.
"Our offense was running about as smoothly and efficiently as I've seen out of them.
"This was a good game, with a tournament-type atmosphere. That's something you don't get to experience very often in the regular season."
"The timing couldn't be better for this game," the MSHS coach said. "We've got three more games, then it will be district (tournament) time.
"Both of these teams haven't seen a lot of close games, so it's good to get in a game like this right about now."
Marquette won the JV game, 46-38.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.