With his B & B Elite coach Mike Springs sitting on the visiting team's bench, Warren senior guard Barak Diehl needed no motivation.
Diehl and his teammates did have something to prove, however. They wanted to show they could beat Waukegan without their best player.
"The (assistant) coach on Waukegan (Springs) is my AAU coach, and I just really wanted to win this one," said Diehl, smiling.
Behind Diehl's career-high 24 points, Warren led for most of the night, staved off a furious rally by Waukegan down the stretch and pulled out a 64-54 win in a North Suburban Conference showdown Wednesday night.
"It was, by far, the best game we played," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "We needed it. We needed to have our best game against these guys."
The Blue Devils played their third game in a row without senior guard and leading scorer Branden Ellis, who hyperextended his left knee in Warren's first of two games Saturday at Wheaton Warrenville South. Warren hopes he can play Saturday night at Zion-Benton.
"Somebody's got to step up. He's got big shoes to fill," Diehl said of Ellis. "We played well as a team."
Warren improved to 12-8 and 4-1 in the NSC, and moved into a first-place tie with Libertyville, while Waukegan fell to 10-6 and 3-2.
Waukegan head coach Ron Ashlaw, whose Bulldogs were led by Bryant Brown's 21 points and 8 rebounds, downplayed the notion that his squad underestimated its opponent in light of Ellis' absence.
"That wasn't it at all," Ashlaw said. "We knew these guys were playing well. They're re-establishing their true roots as a motion program. You can scout sets and actions and things that you think they're going to run. We went through all that stuff. But when they move as well as they do, and it's productive movement, it's hard to guard."
Warren enjoyed a productive night shooting. Led by Diehl's 10-of-16 effort from the floor, which included 2 of 6 from three-point range, the Blue Devils connected on half of their 48 shots.
Waukegan made just 20 of 62 shots, several of which were volleys under the basket or other shots from close range. Ja'Dyn Brown added 17 points and 9 rebounds for the Bulldogs, and Jordan Brown had 9 points and 10 boards.
"You take our terrible turnovers (16 total)," Ashlaw said, "coupled with our absolute forgetfulness that there's a backboard attached to that rim, and we were about as bad as we could have been coming off a game where we were about as good as we could have been against Lincoln (on Saturday)."
Warren bolted to a 7-2 lead and kept pace with Waukegan's speed throughout the game. Even after the Bulldogs went ahead 18-14 midway through the second quarter, the Blue Devils responded with a 9-0 run capped by a Diehl 3-pointer. Ja'Dyn Brown and Bryant Brown threw down third-quarter dunks, but Warren took a 40-38 advantage into the fourth.
The Blue Devils grew their lead to 11 midway through the fourth. Two free throws by Ja'Dyn Brown pulled Waukegan within 56-54 with 1:45 left, but Ian Schilling's nifty dish to Diehl for a layup and Schilling's 2 free throws gave the momentum back to the home team.
Jasnoch thought the fact his team played three games without Ellis at Wheaton Warrenville South helped.
"These guys were ready," Jasnoch said of his players. "It wasn't like their first time without Branden. They had those three games without him and we played some really good teams there that do similar things to Waukegan -- pressure defense, trapping."
The Blue Devils' other contributors included Schilling (12 points, two 3s), Ryan Short (10 points, 9 rebounds), Adnan Sarancic (9 points, 8 rebounds) and Tavion McCarthy (2 fourth-quarter free throws, 2 steals), who took Ellis' starting spot. Jordan Johnson (4 points), Jacob Rich (4 rebounds), Casey Cobe (3 points) and Dean Gatsis provided quality minutes coming the bench.
"It's a good team that we played," Diehl said. "They got some good players. Without someone like Branden, it's a great win."