GAYLORD - At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Negaunee High School boys basketball team boarded a charter bus for an MHSAA Class C state quarterfinal game in Gaylord.
It was the third consecutive year the Miners had made the trip to the quarters. Both of those previous two trips had ended in defeat.
"The charter bus driver, who was with us last year," said Negaunee coach Mike O'Donnell, "he got on the microphone and said, 'Hey, this bus is going to Lansing. It's not coming back on Wednesday, it's going on to Lansing.'"
Andy Sneddon photo
Negaunee’s Eric Lori looks for an open lane as a Glen Lake defender delivers pressure during their MHSAA state quarterfinal game Tuesday night at Gaylord. Negaunee won 56-55.
Who was driving the bus, Tyler Jandron?
No. But the 6-foot-1 junior guard was behind the wheel in every other sense as he steered the Miners to a thrilling 56-55 victory Tuesday night over Maple City Glen Lake before some 1,800 fans at Gaylord's Jim Mongeau Gymnasium.
The win puts Negaunee (24-1) in a state semifinal game against Laingsburg (23-2) on Thursday at Michigan State University's Breslin Center. It is Negaunee's first trip to the state final four since 2006, when Jandron's brother, Tony, led the Miners to the state semifinals.
"It's everyone's dream to make it down to the Breslin," said Jandron, who scored a career-high 36 points. "I watched my brother play down there and I just dreamed about it the whole time, picturing myself playing down there in this uniform.
"It really is nice winning it with (my teammates) and just getting over this hump. It's just awesome. I can't really explain it."
Jandron, along with so many of his teammates, had harbored the bitter memories of losing in the quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons.
"He's been a kid on a mission to get back to this point," O'Donnell said. "You could see that tonight, he just wasn't going to let us lose. He had that look in his eye right from the get-go and, at times, really put us on his shoulders. He's been amazing all year and tonight he was a different Tyler Jandron. He stepped it up even one more level than he's been at all year."
Jandron made five of his seven 3-point attempts on the night and finished an outstanding 12-for-17 from the field. He also had five steals and four rebounds, and he scored 15 of Negaunee's 16 fourth-quarter points.
And nothing come easy against a Glen Lake team bent on stopping him.
"That Jandron kid, he's tough," said Glen Lake coach Todd Hazelton, whose team finished 23-3. "He's a good player. They know who to get the ball to and I think that makes a huge difference.
"They're good. They're the No. 1 team in the U.P. for a reason."
For all of Jandron's statistical prowess, perhaps the most lasting memory of Tuesday's game will be his will and toughness. He left the game briefly early in the first quarter after falling to the floor and cutting his chin. He later took a hard shoulder bump from a Glen Lake player during a dead ball, and then came up rubbing his right (non-shooting) elbow after a hard fall late in the fourth quarter.
All of it only seemed to add fuel to his fire, and that of his teammates.
"No way," Jandron said during a post-game interview, rubbing the band-aid that covered his chin. "I wasn't quitting at all. Nothing was going to stop me today."
"You'd have to drag him out of there," O'Donnell said. "In the district final he went down, took a shot, hit his head, and he was back in in three minutes. He's got a warrior mentality. He's such a competitor. He just kept going, kept going."
And he had to, because Glen Lake kept coming and coming.
The Miners held a slim 28-26 halftime lead then broke free with a 10-1 run to open the second half. Jandron capped the spurt with a 3-pointer that left Negaunee in front, 38-27, with under five minutes left in the third.
But Glen Lake stormed back and pulled to within one, 40-39, heading into the fourth.
Negaunee inched ahead and rebuilt its advantage to six, 50-44, when Jandron hit a top-of-the-key triple with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining.
But again, the Lakers responded and forged a 50-50 tie on Carter Lee's putback with 2:24 left.
Twenty seconds later, Jandron nailed another triple to put Negaunee back in front, 53-50.
The Miner lead was two, 55-53, when Negaunee senior Andrew Katona went to the line with 18.1 seconds left. He split the free throws for a 56-53 lead and, as it turned out, his charity toss was the difference in the game.
Forced to attempt a potential game-tying 3-pointer, the Lakers missed, but Lee converted the rebound to draw Glen Lake within one, 56-55, with 2 seconds remaining.
Poise was critical, O'Donnell said, and the Miners drew on their quarterfinal experience down the stretch.
"We've played in this game. We've made this trip. We know what it's all about," he said. "And we talked about adversity, that there's going to be adversity, and we really hadn't faced it in the tournament yet, especially like this.
"To get up 11, everything's going in our favor, and then wham, they're right back and it's a one-point game, just like that. We just had to keep playing basketball, stay with our game plan. They took Glen Lake's shot and kept their composure and countered."
Tanner Uren, a senior who had been in the lineup for both of Negaunee's previous two state-quarterfinal losses, added 10 points.
Mike O'Brien led Glen Lake with 21 points, while Lee added 20 - 16 of which came in the second half.
O'Brien, a 6-foot-4 senior, came in averaging 19.5 points and 12 rebounds per game. He scored 12 of his points in the first half, and was held to just one field goal in the second while battling foul trouble.
Credit for containing O'Brien went to Katona and 6-7 senior Brock Weaver, O'Donnell said.
"Brock and Andrew just battled their butts off in there with him," he said. "There's only so much you can do with a kid that size, and with that kind of speed and athleticism. Only so much you can do and he's going to get his. But I think the second half we kind of neutralized him a little bit and kept him on his toes just enough to where he didn't quite get in the comfort zone."