By Phil Anastasia
Dante Owens-Hill isn't the only one learning a new style of basketball at Lenape.
The entire program has undergone a "significant change," according to veteran coach Chuck Guittar.
Owens-Hill, a junior swingman and a transfer from Woodrow Wilson, generated 21 points with nine rebounds on Saturday to power Lenape to a 64-51 victory over Palmyra in the first round of the Spartan Classic tournament at Doane Academy.
Junior guard Justin Kupa was 7-for-7 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points for Lenape (1-2), the No. 19 team in The Inquirer preseason Top 25.
Senior guard DeVaughn Whitfield-Gaines led all scorers with 28, including five three-pointers, for Palmyra (1-2).
"I was proud of our guys," Palmyra coach Brian Harding said. "We had a lot of foul trouble and we're down six in the fourth quarter against a good Group 4 team."
The 6-foot-3 Owens-Hill was Lenape's most consistent player in an fast-paced, foul-filled game in Doane Academy's tiny gymnasium on the campus of the school on the banks of the Delaware River in Burlington City.
Owens-Hill sliced to the basket for a three-point play to help repel a Palmyra rally in the third quarter, and added five points and three rebounds as a steadying influence in a frantic fourth quarter.
"We fought," Owens-Hill said of Lenape. "We kept fighting even when things were going wrong for us. We never gave up."
Kupa's free-throw shooting helped Lenape turn back Palmyra's last rally after Winfield-Gaines' final three-pointer cut the lead to 55-49 with a little more than three minutes to play.
"We were resilient," Kupa said of the Indians.
Lenape basketball under Guittar has been known for gritty man-to-man defense and deliberate offense. The Indians often seemed to prefer to win games by scores such as 44-40.
So it's a little strange to see Guittar's team push the ball up the floor on offense, looking for fast-break opportunities and quick shots.
"I though the whole program needed to change," Guittar said. "I thought we were stagnant and needed to do a better job of developing our players.
"We're looking to push the ball, trying to get up the floor and attacking the rim."
Kupa, in his third year in the program, said the change in style has forced everybody to adjust.
"It's fun," Kupa said. "We're making steps. Every game, we're making steps. I think we're going to be a tough team to beat in February."
Owens-Hills, who started for Woodrow Wilson as a sophomore, wasn't familiar with Lenape's old offensive approach.
But the athletic left-hander still has been forced to adjust to Lenape's practice routines as well as the Indians' continued focus on fundamentally sound defense.
"It's been a major adjustment," said Owens-Hill, who moved to Mt. Laurel in late August and enrolled at Lenape in September. "The intensity in practice, the drills we run, everything."
Owens-Hill has been the Indians' top scorer, with a 19.3-point average through three games. He has flourished at times in the team's new fast-paced system.
"We were going to do this even before he got here," Guittar said of Owens-Hill. "But he's been a nice addition."
Palmyra 8 12 19 12 -- 51
Lenape 22 15 14 13 -- 64
Palmyra: Taj Harris 7, Carter Wilburn 1, D'Angelo Robertson 9, DeVaugh Whitfield-Gaines 28, Max Smyth 4, Andrew Hunt 2.
Lenape: Jordan Johnson 2, Dylan Yerkes 5, Josh Gilmore 3, Justin Kupa 16, Jermane Carter 4, Dante Owens-Hill 21, Tyler Rinehimer 5, Matt Angelica 2, Andrew Sims 6.
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