Florence High boys’ basketball crowned division champion

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Florence Township Memorial High School's Rasheem Harris attempts to move the ball past a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Rasheem Harris attempts to move the ball past a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Justin Murray dribbles up the court in a Feb. 19 home game against Burlington Township High School. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Shaharia Shajib fights off a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Rasheem Harris attempts to move the ball past a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Rasheem Harris attempts to move the ball past a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Justin Murray dribbles up the court in a Feb. 19 home game against Burlington Township High School. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF
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Florence Township Memorial High School's Shaharia Shajib fights off a Burlington Township High School defender in a Feb. 19 home matchup. PHOTO BY THOMAS WIEDMANN/ STAFF

This has certainly been a bounce-back season for the Florence Township Memorial High School boys’ basketball team.

After Florence suffered through a 3-21 season a winter ago, the Flashes rebounded in a major way.

This season features a Burlington County Scholastic League Independence Division title and an overall record of 11-12 as of Feb. 23. The Flashes finished 7-3 in the division to edge  STEM Civics High School for the title. Runner-up STEM Civics, which is based in Ewing, ended 6-4.

The Flashes also secured a berth in the state sectional tournament.

Florence will compete for the Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional tournament title.  Ninth-seeded Florence will play division rival STEM Civics, the eighth seed, on March 2 in Ewing. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Following a year where the Flashes didn’t record a single division victory and found itself fighting early deficits in games, coach Cesar Pereda said his young squad fought back and continues to develop its game.

“The change from last year is that we have learned to not hang our heads and battle back,” Pereda said. “We are three months in now, and I like the way we are playing. The defense has picked up and our team unity. We are working together and getting the ball moving. We still have some things to do, but we are growing and almost at a .500 record.”

With Florence having claimed its first division title in four years, the coach explained that the winning season could be a sign of promising things to come for the program.

“It feels good. It was a big turnaround,” Pereda said. “We have a different group of kids, but they are playing well. We are young, but at the same time we are growing each game.”

The coach also pointed out that success this year for Florence has not necessarily come off the heels of one particular player, but rather the whole team. In the closing weeks of the season, less than 50 points separates each of the team’s top-four scorers—Justin Murray; Rasheem Harris; Noel Nabors; and Cole Connelly.

Murray has already posted more than 230 points while Harris has collected more than 190 points. Nabors and Connelly have combined for more than 375 points this year.

Heading into state playoffs, Pereda said that the team’s ability to play as a unit will be the game plan.

“I always tell them that in order to beat other teams, we can’t just have one guy being the scorer,” he said. “We have to share the ball. In one game, one guy might be a high scorer and the next game we might have to distribute the ball and see what’s there. We can’t count on one guy…They are a young group and try to do everything, and getting to share the ball makes it a lot easier for us.”

Although the offense has sparked this year and will be a strength for the Flashes come playoff time, the coach said the team still needs to tighten up in its defensive zone. If Florence looks to have a successful playoff run, Pereda said defensive mishaps will need to be stymied.

“We have to cut down on turnovers,” he said. “Controlling the game, getting in our sets – sometimes we can get caught up in the pace of the game and lose control. That’s where our youth shows a bit…One of the things we are working on is our offense. Our defense has picked up. Our boxing-out has improved, but the key part is being patient and cutting down on our turnovers.”