Demarion Watson, Omaha Biliew serving has quick-hit sparkplugs for ISU off the bench

Iowa State Cyclones guard Demarion Watson (4) takes a shot around Green Bay Phoenix forward Amari Jedkins (5) during the second half at Hilton Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES Demarion Watson’s minutes are slightly up. So are his numbers, which are achieved in brief bursts throughout a game. Iowa State’s sophomore sparkplug knows his role. He must provide energy. Maximum effort. A handful of explosive plays on both ends of the floor even though most of the game he resides on the bench — for now, at least. 

 “Just having an impact on my team regardless of how many minutes I’m playing,” said the 6-7 guard/forward who plans to help the Cyclones (3-0) handle Grambling (2-2) at noon Sunday at Hilton Coliseum. “Just understanding that my time will come and that in that time I have to produce a lot of different things, whether that’s defensive rebounding, or just overall getting stops, and offensively, just being able to cut and get those looks at the rim and pass out of those cuts, too.”

 Watson averages 3.3 points in 12.3 minutes per game, which makes him the ninth-most utilized ISU player early this season, but he’s still tasked with making significant contributions each second he’s on the floor.

 “He’s a big-time energy guy,” said Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger, whose team ranks third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. “He’s done a lot of great things to make plays that have uplifted our team. Certainly, somebody on the defensive side (who) has the versatility to guard a really good guard, and he can be a guy you put on a front-line guy and maybe switch some things and disrupt, so really proud of the focus Demarion has kept. (He’s) in that zone and that space that we need him to be in because he’s had an impact on winning when he’s been in the game.”

  The same could be said for heavily-hyped freshman Omaha Biliew, who’s clocking two more minutes per game than Watson as he adjusts from high school ball to high-level Division I hoops. Before the season started, the 6-8 Biliew — a McDonald’s All-American — told Otzelberger he “wanted to earn everything,” and his dedication to the game has been evident while he seeks to carve out minutes behind senior big men Tre King, Hason Ward and Robert Jones.

 “Diving for every loose ball, getting every single rebound, showing effort plays, showing energy plays — and being me at the highest level,” said Biliew, who’s averaging 4.0 points per game and is a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. “(Coaches) see something in me that I probably don’t see in myself and I want to be great. So it’s just the process of knowing that they have my best interests (in mind) and I want to be great. Just taking everything day by day; just stacking days.”

 Just like Watson. Both boast length and athleticism and both are expected to inject explosive energy into the Cyclones on each end of the floor in a handful of minutes each game — for now, at least.

 “We’re all about just winning and winning together,” Watson said. “Our biggest goal is just to win as many games as possible together and just stay positive and stay together.”