DENHAM SPRINGS — Scotlandville basketball coach Carlos Sample said there’s no longer a learning curve for his talented freshman guard Ja’Vonte Smart.
With the Hornets more than halfway through the season and nearing the end of the first round of District 4-5A play, Sample expects Smart to play beyond his years.
With Scotlandville locked in a tense league battle with Denham Springs through the first 13 minutes it was Smart that took over the last five minutes, enabling the Hornets to gain separation and eventually pull away for a 63-42 victory at Grady Hornsby Gymnasium on Friday.
“We’re 23 games into the season,” Sample said. “I told him he wasn’t a freshman any more. I told him he had to play like an upperclassmen.”
With 19 points from Smart, one of three double-figure scorers, Scotlandville (19-4, 4-0) won for the fifth straight time and eighth in its past nine games.
The Yellow Jackets (16-6, 2-2) suffered their worst loss of the season after shooting 31 percent from the field and matching their season-low point total.
“Southern Lab used to play like that,” Denham Springs coach Wynn Wingate said. “They denied the wings and made it hard for you to do almost anything.”
Through one quarter, the game was tied twice, including 13-13, after a 3-pointer from DSHS’ Torez Kinchen with 34 seconds left.
Smart scored the first four points of the second quarter before finishing off a baseline drive that touched off a stretch of 10 unanswered points over the next two minutes. That produced a 29-18 lead with 3:20 left before halftime.
Smart scored 12 of his 14 first-half points in the second quarter and showed off his ability to drive and pass, locating Garrick Green inside three times for layups as part of his 16-point effort that gave Scotlandville, which shot 56 percent from the field in the quarter, a 35-27 lead at halftime.
Compounding DSHS’ problems was having to play the last six-plus minutes of the quarter without Kinchen, who picked up his third foul trying to fight through a screen. He wound up with 10 points.
“For him to play a half or three quarters of a game is not what I planned,” Wingate said. “Losing Torez to foul trouble hurt.”
After a scoreless first half, Tennessee-Chattanooga signee LaMarcus Lee began to heat up for Scotlandville with eight of his 10 points during a 12-4 run that made it 47-31 at the 3:15 mark.
Lee drained a pair of 3-pointers to fuel the spurt and wound up with 13 points.
Altoris Odom, who led DSHS with 14, brought the Yellow Jackets to within 51-38 on a layup with 3:57 remaining before Smart’s pull-up jumper touched off a 12-2 spurt and wound with a 63-40 lead after his free throw with under a minute to play.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Sample said. “But I’m proud of them for coming into a hostile, playoff type atmosphere and producing the way they did.”