IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ahmad Wagner was the 12th player Iowa coach Fran McCaffery tapped for playing time in Friday’s season opener against Gardner-Webb.
But he certainly wasn’t an afterthought in the Hawkeyes' 76-59 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Wagner, a 6-foot-7 freshman playing his first college game, didn’t enter until there were 9 minutes, 22 seconds left. He played the rest of the way, collecting a team-high eight rebounds (six offensive) and six points, all on putbacks.
“I just want to go in and give it everything I’ve got every time I go in,” said Wagner, who missed two practices with a shoulder injury but looked great Friday.
Teammate Jarrod Uthoff called him “crazy strong.” McCaffery said Friday’s performance was why Wagner was his first freshman off the bench in the first exhibition game of the season.
“He's just a guy that really understands how to play,” McCaffery said. “He understands what his strengths are and he's just a phenomenal athlete with tremendous strength.”
Wagner is believed to be the first Hawkeye since Melsahn Basabe to wear a headband during a game.
“Didn’t wear a headband in high school (in Ohio). Thought I would try it out in college,” Wagner said. “I guess it’s working out well for me right now. … It’s coming back, for sure.”
Shooting guard Andrew Fleming was the first true freshman to play Friday; he scored one point in 4 minutes, but ceded more time to Brady Ellingson (four points, 23 minutes).
The freshman had six points and eight rebounds in 9 minutes.
Uthoff’s amazing pace
Iowa unveiled its 2015 NCAA Tournament banner before Friday’s game. If it wants to get back to the Big Dance in 2016, it’ll take Uthoff being as good as he was in the opener.
Uthoff’s 21 points, all in the first half, carried the Hawkeyes when the rest of the team was struggling to score. Iowa will miss Aaron White, the school’s No. 2 all-time scorer, but Uthoff is off to a good start replacing that frontcourt punch.
“That guy, he did everything in the first half,” teammate Adam Woodbury said. “There’s not much more I could have done. I’ll let him take over, do what he does. 21 in one half?
“If he’s averaging 42 a game, I think we’d be a pretty damn good team.”
The Iowa center talks about a season-opening win over Gardner-Webb.
If Peter Jok can’t go Sunday against Coppin State, McCaffery at first said he’d likely start Ellingson, but left the option open to “go big” with someone like Dom Uhl.
Jok’s right ankle was in a boot after the game. The junior guard went down with 17 minutes, 22 seconds left, shortly after canning two 3-pointers. McCaffery didn’t think the injury was too serious.
“Right now, it's hurting. See how he feels tomorrow,” McCaffery said. “And then we'll make a decision on Sunday whether he's going to go.
“I don't think it's going to keep him out for three weeks or anything like that, no.”
It’s more important that Jok be healthy to play Thursday at Marquette, which, by the way, lost its season opener Friday against Belmont, 83-80.
Uhl playing bigger, better
McCaffery issued a public challenge to Uhl this past week, noting that after the 6-foot-9 sophomore played just 2 minutes in an exhibition loss to Augustana, “I don't think he has fully comprehended how hard we need him to play.”
Uhl came off the bench in Friday’s game with lots of energy, scoring all six of his points in the first half. He even played more first-half minutes (11) than starter Adam Woodbury (10).
Uhl has been tapped as Woodbury’s main backup at the center position, where he’s gradually getting more comfortable.
“He wants me to play more like Gabe (Olaseni) did last year,” Uhl said. “It’s different. But you’ve got to do what helps you get on the floor.”
Quick strikes from Baer
On the first offensive possession of his college career, redshirt freshman Nicholas Baer came up the floor on a fast break — and received a chest pass from Anthony Clemmons on the left wing. Baer, a walk-on from Bettendorf, squared up and banged in a 3-pointer to put Iowa ahead 54-42.
Baer played 13 minutes, all in the second half, and finished with six points.
“He was really, really special,” McCaffery said. “He comes in and hits a 3 right away, hits another 3 to put us up 17. He makes a big defensive play. He's on the glass. He missed some shots, but he's going to keep shooting.”
Baer was the 10th Hawkeye to see action.
“I’m not too worried about minutes as long as we’re winning,” Baer said. “That’s all that really matters to me.”