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‘This is for you’: Demarion Watson earns standing ovation from Hilton following perfect night

The+Iowa+State+bench+gives+Demarion+Watson+%284%29+praise+after+his+career+game+during+the+Iowa+State+vs+Oklahoma+basketball+game+at+Hilton+Coliseum%2C+Feb.+28%2C+2024.%0A
Elizabeth Lane
The Iowa State bench gives Demarion Watson (4) praise after his career game during the Iowa State vs Oklahoma basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 28, 2024.

AMES — Demarion Watson had never scored more than 10 points in a collegiate game before Wednesday night. After Iowa State’s 58-45 win over Oklahoma, Watson headed to the sideline to a standing ovation from a packed Hilton crowd and a long hug from head coach T.J. Otzelberger following his perfect 15-point performance.

With the way the Cyclones opened the game against Oklahoma, they needed a game changer. A difference maker.

“I thought Watson was the difference maker,” Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser said. “I mean, 7-for-7, 15 [points] and nine [rebounds] off the bench… I thought he was a huge spark for them.”

Two minutes into the game, not a single point was on the board. With shots falling short left and right, it was clear that every Cyclone was having an off night.

Halfway through the first half, neither team was shooting above 25% from the field. The Cyclones were clinging to a one-point lead through a good chunk of the first half. Defense was making up for a freezing cold shooting night.

“Obviously, it was not pretty at all. It was ugly,” Curtis Jones said.

With five minutes left in the first half, the Cyclones were shooting under 15% from the field. Even routine layups were falling short. In a span of six minutes near the end of the half, not a single bucket fell for the Cyclones as they missed nearly 30 shots in the first 20 minutes.

Even their normal spark-plug players were struggling.

Entering the second half with just 25 points, it was clear that something needed to change. That was when Otzelberger turned to Watson.

“When you’re in his spot, you don’t always know exactly how many minutes or when you’re gonna go in the game, it can be hard to stay mentally prepared when the moment presents itself,” Otzelberger said.

That moment presented itself almost instantly for Watson.

Demarion Watson grabs a rebound during the Iowa State vs Oklahoma basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 28, 2024. (Elizabeth Lane)

Just 20 seconds after checking in, Watson grabbed an offensive board and put back a layup to extend Iowa State’s lead. One minute later, he did the same thing.

Opportunities were showing up on every possession, and Watson was taking them without a second thought.

“I was in a good rhythm, so when an opportunity came, just knock it down,” Watson said.

With 13 minutes left in the game, Keshon Gilbert fed a pass inside to Watson who he laid in off the glass to queue up a “Juicy Wiggle” for Hilton. The Coliseum exploded in cheers for the special night Watson was starting to have.

“I was just loving it and embracing it,” Watson said.

With the lack of energy in the first half, Watson was the gamechanger in the second that helped Iowa State run away with the game. In just over six minutes, Watson had six points and four offensive rebounds to bring his total up to seven.

Watson caught fire when the Cyclones needed him most.

“We didn’t have a lot of energy in the first half, so I thought it was my job to just bring energy to the group,” Watson said.

With over 10 minutes to play, Watson broke his career-high in points. He caught a low pass from Robert Jones and still put up the layup. One possession later, Gilbert found him in the paint again to break the double-digit mark.

Despite Watson’s efforts, Oklahoma was still battling with under five minutes to play. The Sooners started to creep back into the game and cut the lead to 10 off the back of a big 3-pointer.

“I remember vividly, we’re trying to claw and trying to make some kind of a run to get it into single digits,” Moser said.

With Oklahoma a shot away from cutting Iowa State’s lead down to single-digits, the Cyclones desperately needed a shift in momentum. On the other end, Watson was about to provide that spark again.

No one was going to spoil Watson’s special night.

Gilbert kicked the ball out to Watson in the corner, and without a second of hesitation, he let the ball fly.

“You build your confidence through doing effort-based things over and over again. He consistently defended, he consistently rebounded, he consistently cut and finished,” Otzelberger said. “You just keep putting positives in the ledger and building it up, and so when that shot shows up, you’ve got a sense of confidence like, ‘I should make this. I’ve earned this. I’ve worked for this.’”

“It wasn’t his first shot. It wasn’t him just trying something out, it’s him saying, ‘You know what, I’m feeling good tonight, and I should feel good, because I’m doing all these positive things. And you know what, I’m gonna do this as well. I’m gonna knock this shot down right now.’”

“And he hit that three from the corner,” Moser said.

Swish. Nothing but net.

The Hilton crowd exploded as nearly every person in attendance jumped to their feet. One thing was clear from that shot: the game was over.

Watson slammed a dunk home shortly after his dagger shot to build his total up to 15 points. He finished the night shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and hauling in nine rebounds. One shy of a double-double.

As Watson checked out for the final time and walked to the bench, Otzelberger was there waiting to embrace him. With the crowd on its feet giving Watson a standing ovation, Otzelberger whispered words to Watson only he could hear.

“I wanted him to know how proud of him I was,” Otzelberger said.

Otzelberger told Watson to look around and take it all in. He wanted Watson to see the Hilton crowd around him of over 14,000 people who appreciated his effort that night.

Watson said that Otzelberger told him one last thing before the buzzer rang. “This is for you.”

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  • T

    Travis j. Meiborg | Feb 29, 2024 at 3:25 pm

    Best bench in the big xii

    Reply
  • B

    [email protected] | Feb 29, 2024 at 7:56 am

    I like the statistics given. The opening paragraphs information describes the slump Iowa State was in.

    Congratulations to Watson.

    Reply
  • P

    Paula Twelmeyer | Feb 29, 2024 at 7:24 am

    Excellent article, Christian!

    Reply