Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith likes to schedule games back to back. He said it prepares the team for tournaments later in the season.
Smith has work to do before his team is tournament-ready after the Tigers barely put away Eastern Michigan Saturday afternoon in the Hearnes Center.
“I take responsibility,” Smith said. “We aren’t showing up the second day. It bothers me, and it bothers everybody in there. We are losing matches we shouldn’t.”
It’s the third consecutive week the Tigers have had back-to-back duals and the first time they’ve won both. The victory was in jeopardy after several wrestlers did not bounce back from Friday night’s shutout against Buffalo.
Freshman 125-pounder Barlow McGhee and redshirt freshman 133-pounder Matt Manley lost their matches. It’s the second time this season that those two lost on the second day of a doubleheader.
“We had some guys wrestle really well today,” Smith said. “J’den Cox, Drake Houdashelt and Devin Mellon are very consistent … those guys are listening, knowing and buying in. I have to get four or five other guys to do that and have that consistency. You just can’t do it in one match and then you think are going to just walk out there.”
Redshirt freshman Lavion Mayes at 141 and top-ranked junior Houdashelt at 149 brought Missouri out of the six-point deficit with bonus-point victories. Houdashelt won by technical fall after scoring 18 points on Mike LeHolm.
Houdashelt has made a habit of earning extra points in his matches. This season, he has had 17 matches decided by bonus points.
His secret? Wrestle for seven minutes, he said.
Those bonus points made the difference in the dual’s outcome.
“We talk about it through the week,” freshman J’Den Cox said. “We want bonus points. We want them and they are big part of what we do. We work too hard not to get them. We just have to push ourselves and the whole team to go get it.”
When No. 3 Cox wrestled at 197, Missouri was down by three points. His victory put the Tigers in a position to win.
The dual then came down to the final match when junior heavyweight Devin Mellon prevailed over the Eagles’ Khodor Hoballah in a 5-2 decision.
“You just have to concentrate what you do and do what you do best,” Mellon said.
This was not new territory for Mellon, who has found himself in the position to win the dual two other times this season. He is now three for three on those high-pressure matches.
“I really try not to think about (it),” Mellon said. “But it is going to run through your mind. It really doesn’t bother me because I am a pretty calm person and pretty laid back.”
His teammates weren’t too worried about Mellon securing the victory.
“I have the utmost confidence in him,” Cox said. “I roll around with this guy every week in and out. I can’t have anything but confidence in him. I know what he can do and what he is capable of. I know he can win.”
Missouri will remain at home again next weekend when Old Dominion comes to the Hearnes Center on Feb. 16.