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With school-record 39 free throws, Washington State outlasts Rider 94-80 to stay unbeaten at home

Washington State forward Robert Franks  attempts a shot as Idaho forward Jared Rodriguez  defends during the second half  Dec. 5  in Pullman. (Pete Caster / AP)

PULLMAN – The last eight days came with plenty of discouraging news for the Washington State basketball team.

What started with a five-point loss to Montana State continued four days later when reserve forward Arinze Chidom announced plans to transfer. Then, at some point along the way, Viont’e Daniels suffered a concussion, keeping the veteran guard out of the Cougars’ lineup for the first time since his sophomore season – a span that stretched 60 games.

Monday’s game against Rider, played in front of a sparse home crowd that numbered just 1,673 – but appeared much smaller than that – could’ve been the next bump in WSU’s road. Instead, the Cougars used it as a pick-me-up, beating the Broncs 94-80 to preserve their unbeaten record at Beasley Coliseum.

“The students are gone, not a lot of people in the building and you have to generate your own energy and create a homecourt advantage to beat a team the caliber of Rider,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “The adversity of the last couple of weeks, the thing that it did – and it does it a lot with young people that have character – it just brought their character out.”

Marvin Cannon, a junior college transfer, made just his third start of the season but potentially earned himself a fourth by scoring 23 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 15 of 16 from the free-throw line.

Robert Franks led the Cougars (6-3) on the scoresheet with 25 points – his seventh 20-point effort in eight games – and freshman CJ Elleby scored in double figures for the fifth consecutive game. Franks was also the clubhouse leader on the boards, with a game-high 11 rebounds.

A scrappy Rider team committed 33 fouls and sent the Cougars to the free-throw line for 51 attempts. That wasn’t a school record, but WSU’s 39 made free throws was.

Cannon was almost perfect from the stripe, Franks went 8 for 10, Carter Skaggs boosted the percentage by going 6 for 6 and Jeff Pollard came off the bench to hit 5 of 6.

“Coach Kent preached that them guys foul a lot, so we just tried to drive the ball and try to get fouls,” Cannon said. “We practice free throws every day, we practice free throws a lot so it just came second nature.”

Cannon, a small forward from Richmond, Virginia, who came to WSU by way of Barton Community College, set career highs in points (23), minutes played (32) and assists (2). He was responsible for a few of the game’s momentum-swinging sequences.

Early in the second half, Franks fed the sophomore in the open court and Cannon flushed home a two-handed dunk. He raced back to the other end to block a long two-point shot from the Broncs’ Jordan Allen.

A minute later, Cannon was back at the free-throw line, giving the Cougars a 56-35 lead – their biggest of the game.

“He’s a good player and when you lose a player, it’s next man up,” Kent said. “I’ve spoke a lot about the depth of this team and what it did was created more playing opportunities for guys. Marvin, he played just like he did in junior college. It’s just taken him awhile.

“He had to put on 20 pounds, he had to learn the system, gained his confidence and you can see he can be a really special player. He’s someone else that’s coming to the party now, as I call it. He’s only going to get better and better.”

Rider applied full-court pressure down the stretch of the second half, allowing the Broncs to whittle WSU’s lead to eight points with 45 seconds to play. But the Cougars, who had runs of 24-2 and 11-0 at various points of the game, made 10 straight free throws in the final minute.