While Grayslake North was using Wednesday night's Class 4A regional semifinal at Hoffman Estates to prove it belonged with long-established programs like Hersey's, the Huskies were using it to send a message to sectional top-seed Fremd that they belong on the same court with them.
Hersey will get the chance to prove it at 7 p.m. Friday in the regional championship against an unbeaten Fremd team with a singular, state-minded focus.
Hersey's senior-laden lineup is ready, though, and looking forward to the challenge.
The Huskies jumped ahead, held off every charge by the Knights (17-10) and emerged with a 63-51 win that was as close as 50-44 midway through the fourth quarter.
That's when the game's high scorer, senior Jamal Thomas of Grayslake North, athletically converted a neat, heads-up pass from reserve Joey McHugh to complete a backdoor cut and get the game as close as it had been since the first quarter, when Hersey's Grant Wagner (13 points) hit a 3-pointer to close the opening period for a 19-13 lead.
From there, Hersey point guard Joe Coffaro knocked down 3 after 3 en route to a 20-point night, keeping Hersey (16-10) focused on the task.
The lead ballooned to 38-24 at the half when Ken Hasley (14 points) converted inside on a nice feed from Chris O'Toole.
Hersey's height (Hasley, O'Toole, Wagner and 6-foot-7 Eddie Mleko) proved too much for the Knights.
"You've got to give credit to Hersey," Thomas said while talking to college scouts afterward. "They were really focused."
And dialed in.
The Huskies were 5-of-11 on 3-pointers and 26-of-43 from the floor.
They converted drives, backdoor cuts and turned passes off ball screens into layups, sometimes in a crowd with impressive double-dip scoops by Coffaro, Hasley and Wagner every time Grayslake North made a run.
And the Knights made a few.
"It was still a 6-point game with three to four minutes to go," Knights coach Todd Grunloh pointed out, despite his team not taking as good care of the ball as it usually does, committing too many turnovers and missing some close shots they've been converting all season long.
"We weren't really ourselves tonight," Grunloh added. "We were sloppy with the ball. That's a credit to (Hersey). That's a solid team."
Thomas' quickness gave the Huskies fits as they rotated player after player on him, yet he still managed to find his way to the hoop for a slick layup or an even slicker assist.
James Connolly's 3-point shooting in the second half kept Hersey's game-long, man-to-man defense honest. He finished with 14 points.
Now, Hersey coach Steve Messer is hoping Coffaro can help keep his team as focused and engaged Friday night as it was Wednesday.
"He's a gamer," Messer said of his gutty point guard. "Where some players take a 'rest' on defense so they can turn it on at the other end, he doesn't do that.
"He's only out there to see how he can help his teammates."
Like the two 3-pointers he hit in the second quarter or the crucial one-and-one drive through traffic late in the fourth.
Now, can he and the Huskies do it as effectively against the unbeaten Vikings?
Messer knows the answer to that.
"Our season will end if we don't get rid of the turnovers," he said.