By Phil Anastasia
Ryan McMahon can sum up last season for the Lenape boys' basketball team in one word.
"Horrible," McMahon said.
Things have changed for the Indians.
Lenape began a new season on Friday night with a 39-35 victory over Bishop Eustace in a Olympic Conference inter-division clash in the Crusaders' fieldhouse.
McMahon, a senior guard, scored eight points and played a strong floor game as Lenape stunned the No. 5 team in The Inquirer's preseason rankings.
"It means a lot to come in here and beat a team like that on their court," McMahon (pictured) said. "It's just one game but it's big, especially after last year."
Senior swingman Garrett Mahon led all scorers with 15 and junior guard Dylan Yerkes bounced off the bench and scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter for Lenape.
Junior guard Mike Cohen scored 10 and senior swingman Connor McLaughlin generated seven points, six rebounds and four blocks for Bishop Eustace.
The Crusaders were just 6-for-19 from the foul line.
"I'm at a loss to explain our foul shooting," Bishop Eustace coach Bob Falconiero said. "If we shoot 50 percent, we probably win the game."
Falconiero is confident his team will bounce back.
"It's not the way we wanted to start," Falconiero said. "But it's a long season. We've got to learn from this."
The foul-filled, physical game was played before a large crowd that include chanting student sections from both schools.
Bishop Eustace took a 29-27 lead early in the fourth quarter on a basket by senior center Brandon Cazan, who finished with eight points.
But Lenape surged in front as Yerkes buried a three-pointer from the left side, McMahon hit a pull-up jumper in the lane and Mahon made a pair of free throws with 2:24 on the clock.
"We came in with confidence," McMahon said. "We knew how hard we had worked. We felt like we could come in here and compete."
Cohen made a pair of free throws and McLaghlin cut the deficit to 34-33 with a jump hook with 1:30 remaining.
After a flurry of turnovers, Mahon scored off a scramble after taking a nice pass from Yerkes to make it 36-33. Yerkes made two free throws to stretch the Indians' edge to 38-33 at the 0:19 mark.
"Big minutes," Lenape coach Chuck Guittar said of Yerkes' play in the fourth quarter.
Lenape played sturdy man-to-man defense and patient offense -- trademarks of one of South Jersey's premier programs.
The Indians also were motivated by the memory of last season, when an injury to top scorer Cameron Green and other factors led to an un-Lenape-like, 10-18 record.
"My worst year ever," Guittar said. "I had a great group of kids but we just couldn't seem to get going. It seemed like we were behind the eight ball all season."
The Indians walked into the cold December night after winning their opener on the road against one of the most highly-touted teams in South Jersey.
It's still 2014.
But it already feels like a different year.
"It's going to help their confidence," Guittar said of his players. "They know they can compete. They should come to practice every day ready to work hard and get better and build on it."
Lenape 14 3 8 14 -- 39
Bishop Eustace 6 10 11 8 -- 35
L: Kelsey Gray 6, Ryan McMahon 8, Garrett Mahon 15, Joe Samanns 2, Dylan Yerkes 8.
BE: Brandon Cazan 8, Max Raiken 3, Brian Keller 2, Connor McLaughlin 7, Mike Cohen 10, Jack McCafferty 2, Eric Sobocinski 3.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org