Missouri has counted on Kenny Burleson to get it through more than one tight spot this season.
In the No. 5 Tigers’ final regular season match against No. 7 Oklahoma on Sunday, Missouri coach Brian Smith put the outcome in Burleson’s hands. Burleson responded with a victory to earn the Tigers a 21-15 win against the Sooners at the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse.
With Jeremy Spates, No. 3 in the nation at 149 pounds, nursing a sore knee and the Tigers leading 18-9, Smith decided to foreit the weight class and depend on Burleson to win at 157, the last match of the dual.
Burleson controlled the entire match against Rafael Maturino, winning 10-4 to earn Missouri a 5-0 home record.
It wasn’t the first time a Burleson victory earned a big win for the Tigers.
In the Tigers’ season-opening upset of Oklahoma State on Nov. 21, Burleson beat the Cowboys’ Kevin Ward 5-3 in the second to last match of the meet to gain the decisive points. The Tigers’ 21-14 victory ended Oklahoma State’s streak of 24 straight dual meet victories.
“If I could have anybody with the match on the line, (Burleson) is probably the best one for it,” Smith said. “He’s one of our consistent winners. He’s led the team in wins every year, so he’s the guy you want out there.”
Against Maturino, Burleson used a pair of takedowns and a reversal to lead 6-3 after the second period. Then he cruised through the third with another takedown, a penalty against Maturino and riding time.
Burleson said he felt confident but that the decision to forfeit made him nervous.
“I knew ahead of time that Spates’ knee wasn’t at its best, so I knew there was the possibility that I would have to step in and make sure we got the win for the dual,” Burleson said. “I’m not gonna tell you it wasn’t nerve-racking.”
Missouri won its first four matches, jumping to a 15-0 lead.
Missouri’s Matt Pell earned an upset victory with an 8-3 decision against Justin Dyer at 184.
After a scoreless first period, Pell, ranked No. 12, moved ahead 5-1 with a reversal and near-fall in the second period. Dyer, ranked No. 9, could only manage escape points as Pell scored a takedown and earned riding time in the third.
Missouri lost its next three matches, though.
Oklahoma’s Leonce Crump, ranked No. 4 at heavyweight, defeated Mike Whitehead 2-0.
Crump earned an escape in the second and a final point for riding time at the end of the match.