This road had yet to be traveled. At least not this season.
The Stevenson boys basketball team had been pushed to the brink last season in its drive to the Class 4A state championship game. But so far this season, the Patriots had breezed through their schedule.
That is, they had until they met up with a pumped up Warren team on Friday night in Gurnee.
The Blue Devils used five 3-pointers and a tempo-dictating zone defense to push top-ranked Stevenson harder than any team has this season.
But star guard Jalen Brunson knocked down 2 free throws in the final seconds to help Stevenson escape Warren with its closest-shave win of the season, 52-51.
Stevenson, which moves to 8-0 overall and 3-0 in the North Suburban Lake Division, had been winning games by an average margin well into the double-digits.
"Warren gave us a really good test. They're a really good team," said Brunson, a junior guard who is being recruited by major Division I college programs all over the country. "We definitely got that (target on the back) today. We're lucky to come out with a win after the way they played."
The Blue Devils had several leads in the fourth quarter when Brunson (team-high 20 points) went on a mini-run and scored 2 straight free throws and a layup off a steal.
That gave Stevenson, which also got 14 points from forward Connor Cashaw, a 3-point lead (50-47) with 2:54 left.
"That's his job and he does it well," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of Brunson and his closing ability. "We expect him to be able to take over, but at the same time, we shouldn't need him to take over.
"We have to play better. We looked a little tentative and unsure on offense. I think their zone kind of threw us off."
The Warren defense limited Stevenson to its lowest point total of the season. The Patriots had a hard time getting up and down the floor as quickly as they usually do.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils (4-5, 1-3 NSC Lake) were balanced on offense, with Eric Gillespie hitting big 3-pointers and Greg Swane dominating in the paint.
Gillespie rolled up three 3-pointers and finished with 16 points while Swane finished with a game-high 22 points.
"Close doesn't really get it done, but there's a lot to build on," Warren coach Ryan Webber said. "I thought Eric played great. He really handled the ball and the pressure and made great decisions. He ran our team exceptionally well tonight. He made big shots. I was really, really impressed against a team like Stevenson. He played every second and I thought he played great.
"I also thought Greg (Swane) played really well. He does a great job of getting post position and then he's just explosive."
Swane said he was ready to explode waiting all week for the Stevenson game. He was pumped to get a shot at the defending Class 4A state runner-up and one of the top-ranked teams in the current state polls.
"This is one of the top games of the year for us," Swane said. "We were all excited to play the No. 2 team in the state. We knew it was going to be a tough battle. I guess we know that we can hang with the best of them."