COLUMBIA — Missouri junior Drake Houdashelt came into his match on Saturday as the No. 1 ranked 149-pounder in the country. Eastern Michigan redshirt senior Mike LeHolm now knows why.
"Embarrass him a little bit here," a fan yelled from the stands during Houdashelt's bout.
Houdashelt heeded that request, topping LeHolm 18-3 by way of a technical fall, improving to 29-1 on the season. It jump-started Missouri, which in its first three matches had wrestlers combine for the same 18 points in their duals that Houdashelt produced individually.
Houdashelt did not miss a beat from the night before, when he collected his 28th win on the season and No. 9 Missouri shut out Buffalo 41-0. On Saturday, the Tigers narrowly escaped Eastern Michigan in a back-and-forth 18-15 duel.
"It’s a lot different because last year, I was the youngest on the team and then this year, I’m the oldest,” Houdashelt said. “So, I really gotta step up and become a leader. Just show by example for all the guys and help them all when they need it.”
Houdashelt's match was bookended by two key duels by Missouri freshman Lavion Mayes, ranked No. 19 in the country at 141 pounds, and freshman Joey Lavallee at 157 pounds. Both Mayes and Lavallee won their duals 14-4 and 3-1, respectively. Those three Tigers acted as the team's nucleus of energy, surging Missouri to a 12-6 lead at intermission.
Missouri dropped matches in the 165-pound, 174-pound and 184-pound weight classes to give the Eagles a 15-12 lead. It was up to 197-pound freshman J'den Cox and heavyweight junior Devin Mellon to bring it home.
Neither Cox nor Mellon was fazed by the pressure.
“I have a routine and I stick with it,” Cox said. “And that’s what has to be done every time. The situation may change and all that, but you’ve got to stay the same. I stay confident, stay ready to go. I know what I do and I do what I do.”
Cox began his match against Eastern Michigan sophomore Anthony Abro by yanking Abro's leg back inbounds for the takedown. Cox didn't look back, winning the bout by a final score of 9-4 and pulling Missouri back to a 15-15 tie with Eastern Michigan.
“Basically, you’ve just got to keep your cool,” Mellon said. “Can’t really think about the team score. You’ve just gotta concentrate on what you do and do what you do best.”
Coach Brian Smith was thinking about the team score, though.
"Frustrated," Smith said. "Inconsistent. Just don't know. Two weeks in a row, I'm frustrated as a coach. I take responsibility. We're not showing up the second day. It bothers me. It bothers everybody in there. We're losing matches we shouldn't."
Smith elaborated on his team's inconsistency, likening it to when a football team finds something that works to push them down the field and then panics in the red zone, switching to something they don't normally do.
“If this was the Super Bowl for us, then we need to work on that,” Cox said.
Missouri will next take the mat on Feb. 16 for an important conference dual versus Old Dominion at 1 p.m. in the Hearnes Center. ODU is just 7-8 this season, but one of the Monarchs' victories is against Central Michigan — a team MU narrowly defeated, 16-15.
"We're gonna have to show up and wrestle," Smith said. "I know we will. I know this team will. I believe in this team. I gotta get them to be more consistent. And that's my job. I take that on me. I have to take that on my shoulders and say, 'Hey, guys, keep listening to me. Keep buying into this. It's gonna work.'"
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.