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Career nights for three freshmen a step forward for USC

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Based upon the program Andy Enfield inherited when it signed on to become the new head coach at USC, the general expectation was that the Trojans would take their lumps as they transition to the fast-paced style that resulted in FGCU reaching the Sweet 16. And that may very well be the case as the season wears on, with the Trojans part of a much-improved Pac-12.

But on Sunday night USC (6-3) outclassed a struggling Boston College (3-6) squad by the final score of 78-62, and the outcome may have provided a glimpse into what’s to come at the Galen Center.

Of the five players to score in double figures three were freshmen who all established new season-highs in points: guard Julian Jacobs (16 points, eight rebounds) and forwards Nikola Jovanovic (15 points, seven rebounds) and Roschon Prince (14 points, five rebounds). As a team USC shot 46.6% from the field while limiting the Eagles to 37.3% shooting. USC controlled the glass (44-27 edge; offensive rebounding percentage of 40.6%) as well, and their 1.16 points per possession is the second-highest figure of the season in that category.

While part of this can be attributed to playing a team in Boston College that’s in serious trouble (they begin ACC play against Maryland on Thursday night), USC certainly deserves credit for this performance. They were assertive for much of the night, showing signs of progress in their quest to play the style that Enfield prefers. Veterans such as Pe’Shon Howard and Byron Wesley will be key figures as well, but their impact on the future of USC basketball won’t be as great as the freshmen and that’s what makes a game like this so important.

Of the three newcomers listed above Jovanovic entered Sunday as the high scorer, averaging 7.8 points per contest with Jacobs (4.9 apg, 4.6 rpg) being the leader in both assists and rebounds. An outing like tonight’s can only help the trio going forward, and next season they’ll be asked to lead the way. Of course additions like Jordan McLaughlin, Jabari Craig, Malik Price-Martin and transfers Darion Clark and Katin Reinhardt will be available, but the presence of players who not only know what Enfield wants but also how to carry over those lessons into game action is important.

Beating a struggling Boston College team may not move the needle much, but the way in which their freshmen played is an important step in the right direction for USC.

WATCH LIVE: Hofstra travels to Delaware on NBCSN

James Madison forward Yohanny Dalembert (40) prepares to shoot against Hofstra forward Rokas Gustys, behind, during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Harrisonburg, Va., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
(Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)
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Hofstra tries to keep pace with the conference’s elite as they travel to Delaware on Saturday afternoon. You can watch this CAA battle live on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. EST.

The Pride (17-8, 9-4) are currently two games behind conference leader UNC-Wilmington and they’re trying to make a run to close out the season. Senior guard Juan’ya Green leads the Pride in points (17.7 ppg), assists (7 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) and he’s surrounded by a dangerous supporting cast.

Delaware (6-18, 1-12) had lost 15 consecutive games before beating Drexel in their last game. The Blue Hens have struggled in CAA play but Kory Holden (17.5 ppg, 4 apg) will try to help lead the upset.

These two teams met on Dec. 31 with Hofstra winning that one, 90-80, at home.

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

Michigan gets Caris LeVert back in a win over No. 18 Purdue

Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) tries to steal the ball from Michigan guard Caris LeVert (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Zak Irvin scored 22 points and Michigan’s outmanned front line held Purdue’s redwoods to just seven offensive boards, six second chance points and just 22 points in the paint as the Wolverines landed a critical, 61-56, win over the No. 18 Boilermakers.

Depending on who you listen to, Michigan entered the day, at worst, on the bubble and at best, in headed for the 8-9 game.

And they picked up a top 25 win.

So yes, this win was big for them moving forward.

But more important than the win itself was that Wolverine fans got a glimpse of all-american guard Caris LeVert. He played just 11 points and didn’t return in the second half, he didn’t score and he missed the only shot that he took, but LeVert took the court for the first time since Dec. 30th. That day, LeVert rolled his left ankle and most likely reinjured a foot that had had a broken bone surgically repaired twice in the last 20 months. Michigan never confirmed what the actual injury was and never gave a timetable for when he would be back in the lineup, which is what made his brief appearance so important.

LeVert isn’t done for the season.

And since the Wolverines managed to post a 9-4 Big Ten record with LeVert acting as little more than a spectator, they have a chance to make a run in the Big Ten tournament and get into the NCAA tournament.

That will happen with LeVert in the rotation and, if all goes according to plan, the starting lineup.

So even with a loss against Purdue, the Wolverines had a good day. Bolstering their NCAA tournament profile was an added bonus.