Missouri’s hopes for a black-and-gold Friday on the march to a national title evaporated as the evening session trundled along during the NCAA Division I wrestling national championships at the Scottrade Center.
By the time reigning 197-pound national champion, sophomore J’den Cox, slumped to his knees with his head bowed after a 3-2 semifinal loss against Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder, the gold — and the chance to win it — had faded almost completely leaving only a Black Friday for the Tigers.
The Tigers fell to fifth place (60 points), behind Ohio State (86.5), Iowa (73), Cornell, N.Y. (66.5) and Edinboro, Pa. (64.5).
“It’s frustrating,” MU coach Brian Smith said. “But tomorrow’s a new day, and we’ve got to go win some matches and see what happens.”
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There were a few flecks of gold for Missouri — which matched the program record with five All-Americans, a feat the Tigers also achieved in 2009 and 2013.
Senior 149-pounder Drake Houdashelt, who had lost in the semifinals in two other seasons, broke through with a 4-0 win against Cornell’s Chris Villalonga and reached his first final.
Houdashelt, the top seed, will tangle with third-seeded David Habat of Edinboro on Saturday night, hoping to cap his career as a national champion.
Senior 125-pounder Alan Waters, Cox and two teammates (sophomore 141-pounder Lavion Mayes and redshirt freshman Willie Miklus) who won three wrestleback matches Friday and will wrestle for seventh place Saturday also are guaranteed All-American status.
Still, it wasn’t the dream finish the Tigers were aiming for all season.
Missouri’s trouble actually started with senior Johnny Eblen’s disqualification at the end of the morning session, which included a four-point penalty in the team standings.
The Tigers’ day started with 10 consecutive wins, including quarterfinal victories by Alan Waters, Houdashelt and Cox, but Eblen was disqualified for flagrant misconduct after a head-butt and takedown after the whistle — 10 feet off the mat, no less — in his third-round wrestleback against Illnois’ Zach Brunson.
Eblen, a Park Hill graduate who was upset in the first round Thursday as the No. 4 seed, fell behind 7-0 in the first period.
He still trailed 9-4 at a restart with five seconds remaining.
That’s when Eblen lowered his head for a desperation shot and bloodied Brunson’s nose.
Brunson immediately put up his right hand and the referee blew the whistle, but Eblen dove in and took down a backpedaling Brunson 10 feet outside the circle.
Missouri lost the three team points Eblen had accrued with major decisions earlier in the tournament and also was docked another point for the disqualification.
As a result, the Tigers needed a near perfect run through the semifinals and the fourth and fifth rounds of wrestlebacks to make up a 19 1/2-point stagger behind Ohio State.
Instead, Waters, who entered the semifinals undefeated on the season, was stunned 4-2 against Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello on a takedown with three seconds remaining.
“Life is like that; things happen,” said Cox, who also suffered his first loss of the season and had a 56-match win streak snapped. “You can’t control everything in life. … Sometimes, the outcome is the outcome. … People makes mistakes. People slip up.”
Missouri senior Mikey England (165) and Devin Mellon (285) also lost in the so-called “blood round,” the fourth round of wrestlebacks that determines who makes the All-American cut.
“I don’t think they fell short,” Smith said. “I look at it as they had great careers. Look what they’ve done for Missouri wrestling, the program and where it’s at right now. They’ve accomplished a lot. … It’s one moment. You have to look at the (last) five years.”