It all came down to the battle of Austins within the warm confines of the Hearnes Center Friday night.
With the score tied 16-16 in the highly-anticipated dual between No. 7 Missouri and top-ranked Oklahoma State, Tigers freshman 285-pounder Austin Myers faced off against Oklahoma State senior Austin Schafer.
The match was always going to be tough for Mizzou — as was the entire 49th dual between the two programs — and although there were many highlights for the black and gold, the final bout served a summary for much of the night.
Myers, who trailed 4-0 early, fell 9-1. Missouri (9-3) fought back from an early 11-0 deficit before taking a 20-16 loss in front of an announced crowd of 2,509 people, the fifth-largest in program history.
“I hate to lose, so it hurts,” coach Brian Smith said. “Everybody is like, ‘Oh, it’s a great moral victory’ — that crap. No, I hate it. We had opportunities to win a match and I’m really proud of my team (with) the way they competed because it is a great team, but that’s what separates the great and we have to get to that point.”
Senior 197-pounder J’den Cox, whose mother Cathy sang the national anthem ahead of the dual, proved his greatness once again. Cox earned a major decision, beating sophomore Preston Weigel to tie the dual before the heavyweights.
Minutes prior, Missouri freshman 174-pounder Dylan Wisman played a crucial role in Cox’s ability to tie the contest. Wisman snagged a 4-1 victory against Cowboys senior Kyle Crutchmer that propelled the Tigers to a 12-11 lead.
“That was big time,” Smith said. “This is a freshman going out there and (finding) a way to take the other guy down and that was just huge.”
Maybe most important was the match 149-pound senior Lavion Mayes turned in with Missouri trailing 11-0.
As has often been the case over the years, Mayes relished the opportunity to flip the script.
“I always go out there and I know that if things ahead of me weren’t so good, I could be the change,” Mayes said. “Today was just another one of those days.”
Tied 5-5 after two periods, Mayes escaped twice and garnered a reversal to grab the 9-7 win over Anthony Collica.
Missouri struggled at the outset Friday as junior 125-pounder Aaron Assad — who replaced typical starter in junior Barlow McGhee — was outwrestled and outmatched by Oklahoma State freshman Nick Piccininni. After an opening takedown, Piccininni poured it on to win 15-0 by technical fall.
Sophomore 133-pounder John Erneste also couldn’t get it going early. Oklahoma State freshman Kaid Brock led 12-1 en route to a 15-8 decision.
Just before Mayes took the mat, freshman 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman took Oklahoma State junior Dean Heil — last year’s NCAA Champion — to the wire. And although Eierman did lose, a late takedown to cut the lead to 8-6 ignited both Mayes and those in attendance — including Mizzou football coach Barry Odom, the wrestling team’s honorary coach for the night.
“It’s nice of him to come up and see us suffer sometimes,” Cox said. “That was great, the environment was awesome and it was nice having him be a part of that.”
Missouri junior 157-pounder Joey Lavallee followed up Mayes’ win with one of his own, as did sophomore 165-pounder Daniel Lewis. Lavallee knocked off Oklahoma State sophomore Joe Smith 6-1, while Lewis completed a late takedown to win 11-10.
Ultimately, though, Oklahoma State (9-0) proved to be too much.
An exciting dual? That Cox admitted. Any moral victory? Like Smith, those don't fly with the 2016 Olympic medalist.
“I wish that every event could be as packed as today was, and that everybody would come and support us like that,” Cox said. “It brings a lot out of you, it brings pride, it brings a fight. … We’ve had our struggles, we’ve had our ups and downs but we’re fighting (with) more of a consistency and I plan on continuing that.”