ISU’s Demarion Watson is “stronger” and “smarter” while playing key role off the bench

Iowa State Cyclones guard Demarion Watson (4) dunks the ball around Florida A&M Rattlers forward Chase Barrs (10) during the second half of a NCAA college basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

 AMESDemarion Watson’s taken zero shots in seven of the past nine games he’s logged minutes.

 Why? The versatile 6-7 sophomore Iowa State guard’s too busy supplying his team with hustle plays — from steals to rebounds to anything else needed in a given moment.

 “I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve gotten smarter,” said Watson, who plans to continue sparking the Cyclones (12-3, 1-1 Big 12) off the bench in Saturday’s 5 p.m. matchup with Oklahoma State (8-7, 0-2) at Hilton Coliseum. “Especially defensively, I’m sharper.”

 That’s the most pivotal quality ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger cultivates in his players — and it’s a big reason Watson’s role in the rotation has expanded recently. He can guard every position on the floor. His length and athleticism can smother opposing players. And he’s willing to do whatever’s asked of him, which makes him a perfect fit as a quick-hitting power source throughout the grueling 18-game conference slate.

 “Our defense is something that’s always gonna lead to our offense and we believe we’re at our best when we’re getting deflections, turnovers, steals, rebounds and getting out and going,” Otzelberger said. “(Watson) definitely brings a lot to the table that way. You could sense his urgency more. Like, when guys don’t get as many opportunities, they either have a tendency to sulk and hang their heads, or feel sorry for themselves, or they’re like, ‘All right. What do I need to do differently and how do I need to be prepared?’ We’re fortunate he’s had the right mindset with it and he’s given us a boost defensively.”

 Watson’s averaged 11.5 minutes per game in the Cyclones’ two league games thus far. He grabbed three rebounds, snared two steals and went 2-for-2 from the foul line in the 71-63 loss at No. 9 Oklahoma, then doled out an assist in Tuesday’s stirring 57-53 triumph over second-ranked Houston at home. So Watson’s unlikely to pop from a statistical standpoint, but his often hidden contributions remain integral to ISU’s success.

 “He’s a great cutter, a great rebounder,” senior forward Robert Jones said. “One of the best on-ball (or) off-ball defenders that we have. He’s just a guy with length and athletic ability at the guard or forward position; just a very good Swiss army knife — can put him in anywhere and he’s gonna produce for us.”

 The Cyclones will need everyone to produce Saturday against the struggling Cowboys, who are the only conference team to go 2-0 at Hilton Coliseum in the Otzelberger era.

 “We like what we’re doing right now,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve got to keep building and we have so much respect for their coach, their players and their program, but we’re really going to keep focusing on if we do these things, if we keep our focus on us, what we’ll be able to accomplish — that’s what we’re trying to do.”

 Watson’s merely trying to do his part and that’s been more than enough, even as his opportunities come in brief, but important spurts.

 “I’m working out the same and not changing a single thing,” he said. “Knowing that my time will come. Just play every possession like it’s my last and just showing my impact on every possession.”