Photos: EBR basketball tournament _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample yells for his players to 'box out' as McKinley's Kyle Woods takes two shots during the third day of the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools boys basketball tournament last season.

The mantra around the Scotlandville boys basketball locker room is that every game is the other team’s Super Bowl.

As the defending class 5A state champions, the Hornets know a target is on their back this season and every team they face will give them everything they’ve got. There’s no room for mistakes.

They wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Every night is a Super Bowl for them, and we have to come out and play physical against whoever we’re playing against,” junior Jaylen Hawkins said. “It gets tough but we play through it and get the job done.”

Expectations are high for the No. 2 team in 5A, but Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said the Hornets are still a ways off from playing at their full potential, despite outscoring opponents by an average of almost 30 points per game through an eight-game win streak to start the season.

Scotlandville returns four starters from last season’s team, including one of the nation’s top prospects for the class of 2018 in sophomore point guard JaVonte’ Smart. The only missing piece from the title run is LaMarcus Lee, who graduated.

Hawkins said the system the team runs this season won’t be much different than last year, but the Hornets will be slightly more defensive-minded this time around.

Sample said he’s pushing his players to raise their basketball IQ by focusing on aspects that won’t show up on a stat sheet, like shot selection and physicality.

“I think our record is deceiving,” Sample said. “I still think there’s a lot of growth with our team, a lot of things that we’re not doing that we need to do to be that championship caliber team.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. The guys are playing hard, and I know these things take time, but at the same time ... some teams take a little longer than others. I think this team understands that they can be a special team, but it has to be everybody, not just one or two people.”

During its hot start, Scotlandville has already won the Sunday Players’ Showdown in the Lake tournament hosted by Hamilton Christian Academy at the beginning of the month, defeating Lafayette Christian in the final.

Sample listed last week’s 55-51 road win over Landry-Walker as the most impressive win of the season so far. It’s the closest win of the season for the Hornets and one of only three games to finish with a single-digit point margin.

But Tuesday night has the potential to be one of the toughest tests of the season for Scotlandville when it hosts defending 2A state champion Riverside Academy.

Riverside is still searching for its first win of the season after starting off 0-2 while missing several key players who were part of Rebels’ run at the Division III football state championship, where they lost to Notre Dame in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“Once they get football out of the way, they’ll win games,” Sample said. “I think they probably are the best team in the state. It’s a great challenge for us, and it’s a great challenge for them. Once football is out, I can just see the talent, the way that they play — once they get it down, they’ll be rolling. I’m not even concerned with Riverside.”

But the talent level the Rebels present isn’t the only reason Scotlandville has had this week circled on the schedule since last season.

Riverside handed the Hornets one of only four disappointments they faced last season in a 64-53 loss in Reserve.

Hawkins hasn’t forgotten.

“It’s like a revenge game,” Hawkins said. “We want to return the favor to them. Beat them. We had beaten them every year except last year, and we just want to get that streak going again.”