PULLMAN – Robert Franks did more than spend a few extra hours in the weight room toning his upper body and improving his cardio this offseason. The Washington State junior morphed himself into a step-back shooting, rebound-grabbing, defensive hound who should make a big difference on both ends of the floor for the 2017-18 Cougars.
Rebounding and scoring are two voids the Cougars desperately need to fill in the post-Josh Hawkinson era, and Ernie Kent’s team didn’t have a shortage of either from Franks, who posted 32 points and hauled down 10 rebounds in a 85-74 Sunday exhibition win over Division II Saint Martin’s.
“I think people will really see his offensive capabilities,” the WSU coach said of Franks, a 6-7, 225-pound forward. “His ability to shoot the ball, rebound the ball, shoot free throws. He’s a tremendous offensive weapon.”
Franks was good from the jump, and so was redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquaah for that matter. In his debut, Acquaah came off the bench to score 21 points and dish out five assists. He padded his stat line with five steals.
Franks and Acquaah were already in double digits by the half, but it took the rest of the Cougars some time to catch up. High-scoring Saint Martin’s guard Luke Chavez nailed a baseline jumper to get things going and the Cougars gave the ball away three times in their first six possessions to fall into a 12-2 hole.
WSU saw 3-pointers fall off the front iron and clank off the back iron, and the shot from the charity stripe wasn’t much better for the Cougars than the one from the perimeter. The home team exited the first half trailing 44-41, after shooting 26 percent from the 3-point line and 64 percent on freebies.
Before a late surge from Franks, who scored the last three WSU buckets of the first half, the Cougars trailed their D-II opponent by as many as 13.
“Part of that’s my fault, we spent a lot of time shooting the ball, I don’t think we spent enough time shooting free throws,” Kent said. “And that’s one of the things I felt coming into the game, as a coach I needed to do a better job and spend some more time on, was free-throw shooting. And it certainly showed up tonight.”
The free throws didn’t get much better after the break – the Cougars finished 25-of-36 – but WSU showed marked improvement in nearly every other category.
There was a run of nearly five minutes midway through the second half in which the Cougars held the Saints without a field goal and the 13-1 spurt extended WSU’s lead to 13 points. And the Cougars had at least a two-possession cushion the rest of the way.
“We had to settle down,” Franks said.
Added Kent: “I thought the big difference in the game for us was defense, particularly the second half where overall, there were seven times we stopped them three times in a row.”
Acquaah’s aggressive drives to the hoop earned him 16 free-throw opportunities. No WSU player made more than 13 visits to the stripe in the 2016-17 regular season. But Acquaah left the floor Sunday afternoon wishing he’d connected on more than 11 of his chances there.
“I feel like I’m going to get a free throws throughout the season,” he said, “because I feel like nobody can guard me off the dribble. That just causes a lot of defenses to put their hands on me.”