Even wrestling without the number one heavyweight in the country, No. 4 Ohio State proved its ranking on Sunday.
The Buckeyes (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten) took down the 12th ranked Gophers (6-5, 5-4 Big Ten) at the Sports Pavilion 24-20, due in large part to the efforts of the other two top-ranked wrestlers on their roster.
“It was a really good dual,” said Minnesota head coach Brandon Eggum. “We knew we had a chance to win it…but giving up those bonus points—that makes a difference.”
Perhaps the most critical match of the day came at 125 pounds, where No. 6 Ethan Lizak took the mat for Minnesota despite having battled the flu bug all week.
Lizak jumped out to a quick lead somewhat reminiscent of last week, when he led Iowa’s No. 1 Thomas Gilman early, but couldn’t hold on.
A win by No. 18 Nick Wanzek at 165 pounds gave the Gophers a six-point cushion heading to the final two weights— but there was a catch.
Waiting in the wings for Ohio State were two top-ten wrestlers — No. 1 Bo Jordan at 174, and No. 10 Myles Martin at 184 —both of whom would wrestle unranked Gophers.
Each Buckeye earned a bonus point win and sealed a victory for Ohio State, and dropped the Gophers to 5-4 in conference competition.
It was more of the same against Ohio State’s No. 18 Jose Rodriguez, who battled back and scored a tying takedown with just seconds remaining to send the match to overtime, where he scored first to give Ohio State its first points of the dual.
“I’m sure with the flu [Lizak] was a little bit drained,” Eggum said. “It just seemed like at the end—similar to last week—he started holding on…he just didn’t finish the match.”
The Buckeyes immediately built off of the momentum at 133 pounds, where No. 1 Nathan Tomasello pinned Minnesota’s No. 17 Mitch McKee, giving Ohio State its first lead of the contest.
The Buckeyes’ No. 1 heavyweight Kyle Snyder did not make the trip, which opened the door for a No. 8 Michael Kroells technical fall — and an early five points to Minnesota.
The teams split the two matches following Tomasello’s pin, but then Jake Short stepped up for the Gophers looking to capitalize on a bonus point opportunity.
The redshirt junior, who is ranked eighth in the nation, came out aggressive early, and after a quick takedown earned a fall at just 1:44 of the opening period.
“I went out there and decided to just wrestle, and wrestle free,” Short said. “I went out there with the mindset that I was going to stick that guy.”
For three Gophers starters, Sunday was also the final time they will compete for Minnesota in the Sports Pavilion, something that is hard for Kroells, a redshirt senior, to believe.
“It’s hard not to just look back,” Kroells said. “It’s crazy that it’s over…it was so fun to wrestle in this atmosphere.”