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Florence returning to old game after NBA tournament

They were not numbers James Florence was happy with.

No free throws in three straight games is something he hasn’t had happen in, well, he can’t remember. And going 4-for 19 from the floor in three games was an unfamilar stat line, as well.

But those particularly frustrating numbers at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament last week were also educational for the former Mercer men’s basketball standout as he works toward a professional basketball career.

“It was cool,” the program’s all-time leading scorer said. “It was more of a learning experience for me than a showcase. It was interesting, to say the least.

“I took a lot away from the weekend, and it’s going to help me a lot going forward.”

The tournament gives 64 players who aren’t on the NBA’s lottery or automatic first-round list a chance to perform for pro front-office types who otherwise probably didn’t many such opportunities.

Florence and his newly hired agent — Danny Servick of Pro One Sports Management — will continue to maintain contact with NBA teams and schedule workouts.

Florence didn’t shoot well but had seven rebounds, nine assists, four turnovers and six steals while averaging 24 minutes for the Roger Brown team, which went 2-1 and lost in the “championship” of the round-robin eight-team event.

“It was the first time in a while we wanted to try to just be a floor leader and get everybody involved and not focus as much on scoring,” Florence said. “I did do some things I wanted to do.”

Teammate Jerome Randle of California was the primary ball-handler and averaged 8.7 assists and 13.7 points in three games en route to tournament MVP.

“When we would play together, I would be on the wing,” Florence said. “It was hard to catch a rhythm. I didn’t take many shots, but when I did, they were kinda out of rhythm. I got some good looks but just out of rhythm.”

Florence said play was physical and few fouls called, so he missed out on chances to get to the line as well as assists.

His game plan going in was to hopefully show more versatility to counter his reputation as a scorer and shooter, to return to more of what he was in high school. But going against competition made up of mostly major-college players and doing so with no practices or on-court game plan has altered his own course of action.

“I don’t think that I’m as good of a player without doing what i do best,” he said. “I learned from that. That’s something I don’t think I’m going forward with. If that’s what i have to do to go to the NBA, I don’t think that’s my calling right now.

“If you’re not a scoring threat, it makes it that much harder to get into the lane, to break down the defense if you don’t have ‘em jumping out at you.”

So Florence will return to being Florence.

“I just have to go back to what works for myself, but at the same time, do those other things,” he said. “Just combining the best of both worlds is what I’m going to have to do.

“In hindsight, I shouldn’t have run away from what made me successful, but I took a lot away from it, and it’s going to help me more in the long run.”

Tourney time

It’s April, which means the college postseason for spring sports is upon us.

Georgia College & State’s golf team got rolling by winning the Peach Belt championship earlier this week.

The A-Sun tennis tournaments begin today in DeLand, Fla., with Mercer’s sixth-seeded women facing third-seeded host Stetson. Mercer’s men just missed qualifying for the six-team field, losing a tiebreaker with Belmont, both teams at 3-7 in conference play.

The SIAC tennis championships start today in Atlanta, as does the track and field meet.

GCSU will try to work its way through the Peach Belt softball tournament from a rare position: the bottom. The Bobcats tied with Georgia Southwestern and Columbus State for ninth in the 11-team league, all at 5-15. Francis Marion hosts the tournament, which starts Friday.

The Peach Belt tennis tournaments also start Friday at the Clayton County Tennis Center. GCSU’s women are tied for seventh with Lander, both at 5-6. GCSU’s men are 5-3, tied for third with Lander.

Kennesaw State is the host for the A-Sun men’s golf tournament, which starts Sunday at Chateau Elan. Mercer is ranked 150th in the Golfstat poll and 147th in Golfweek, good for seventh and eighth among A-Sun teams.

FVSU will try to remain in first in the East Division of the SIAC in softball. The Wildcats have cracked the 20-win mark — stats and records remain outdated on the school and conference Web site — and have a few games left before the SIAC tournament starts on Thursday in Columbus.

The Great South Athletic Conference’s softball and tennis tournaments are later this month.

GCSU’s baseball team is 14-4 in conference play and atop the West Division, and has a few weeks left before the single-elimination conference tournament begins on May 8 at USC Aiken.

Mercer will try to return home from weekend road trips to East Tennessee State and USC Upstate above .500 overall (21-20) and in A-Sun (3-5) softball play. The eighth-place Bears have two more road trips and then close the regular season at home before the tournament starts on May 13 at Stetson.

Mercer’s baseball team looks for a jump in the A-Sun standings when it visits fourth-place East Tennessee State this weekend. The Bears are tied for seventh with Belmont and Kennesaw State with plenty of time before the conference tournament starts May 26 at Lipscomb.

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