UNIVERSITY PARK — The setting was different. The result was, too. That didn’t keep Nico Megaludis from having a touch of déjà vu in his long-awaited rematch of last season’s NCAA championship bout with reigning champion Jesse Delgado.
The Illinois junior nearly had Megaludis cradled up for what would’ve been crucial nearfall points — similar points Delgado earned last March when he sent Megaludis to his second-straight runner-up finish. But Megaludis popped his head up and was able to roll out of Delgado’s attempt and roll to a 5-4 win to spark Penn State’s 31-3 romp over the Fighting Illini Friday night at Rec Hall.
“When I felt it, I’m not going to lie, I almost did have a flashback and I remember what he did and where I was,” Megaludis said.
This time, however, Megaludis was in front of 6,480 screaming Penn State fans instead of the national stage. And naturally, the stakes weren’t nearly as high as they were in Des Moines, Iowa, last March.
A sullen Megaludis wasn’t overly enthused with his win in the team media room following the dual.
“I want to do it when it matters,” Megaludis said. “He’s got the thing I want. I want to take it, so it’s going to be more satisfying when I do it.”
Satisfyingly enough for the Penn State fans who packed the old arena, as the No. 1 Nittany Lions (11-0, 5-0) pulled away from the Illini (6-5, 0-4), who were without two of their bigger stars.
The Nittany Lions won all but one bout where Penn State’s lone loss came at 133 pounds. Meanwhile, No. 2 Zain Retherford and Zack Beitz followed with back-to-back decision wins at 141 and 149 pounds, before No. 4 Dylan Alton returned to the lineup for just his second home dual-meet bout of the season — a 5-2 win over No. 12 Zac Brunson at 157 pounds.
No. 1 David Taylor, No. 3 Matt Brown and No. 2 Ed Ruth ran off consecutive major decisions at 165, 174 and 184 pounds, respectively, to put the dual away. No. 7 Morgan McIntosh added a decision win at 197 pounds, before Jon Gingrich returned to the lineup and capped the match with a 6-1 win over Chris Lopez at 285.
“It’s exciting just to be out there again,” Gingrich said. “I almost forgot what it was like since last year to wrestle in front of Rec Hall. Tonight they were really energized, so that felt good.”
Megaludis got the energy flowing in the building with an early second-period reversal against Delgado. The slippery Illini grappler escaped and nearly countered a Megaludis shot with a cradle for nearfall points on the edge of the mat. But Megaludis quickly righted himself and gained control for a 4-1 lead. Delgado added another escape and a third-period reversal of his own to tie the score before Megaludis escaped with 54 seconds to wrestle.
Neither wrestler could land a shot the rest of the way, with Megaludis controlling the tie-ups to keep the rangy Delgado at bay.
“I guess with him he likes to back up and he wants me to reach,” Megaludis said. “That’s what he wants me to do. When he’s backing up I can’t reach. I’ve got to stay low and do what I do and be smart. Although I do want to get my hands on him, I’ve just got to be smart about it.”
Gulibon couldn’t build off the momentum, and fell to No. 11 Zane Richards 3-1.
Retherford rode his way to an easy 15-3 major over John Fahy after No. 8 Steven Rodriguez failed to weigh-in for the Illini. Another bout that would’ve pitted ranked wrestlers against one another at 197 didn’t happen as No. 4-ranked 197-pounder Mario Gonzalez was unavailable for the Illini.
Sanderson called the lack of premier bouts at 141 and 197 “disappointing,” but said he’s looking forward to potential Retherford-Rodriguez and McIntosh-Gonzalez bouts at the Big Ten tournament.
“Nico got things rolling there, but they had some good kids fill in,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “It’s not something we can worry about and complain about. It’s a tough sport. I think all of their guys are taped up. That’s no fun. I’m sure they’re not too happy about that but we still have a lot of time before the Big Tens for everyone to get healthy.”
Beitz continued his quest to lockdown the starting spot at 149 pounds with a 4-2 win over No. 19 Caleb Ervin. Dylan Alton used two physical takedowns to hand Brunson a 5-2 loss.
Taylor gave up the only takedown of the night but was able to recover and post an 11-3 major over No. 12 Jackson Morse at 165. Brown made quick work of Tony Dallago and used three takedowns and three first-period nearfall points to post a 12-2 win. Ruth followed with four takedowns and a late tilt to pull away from Nikko Reyes 14-3.
McIntosh had no trouble with Gonzalez’s replacement and beat Jeff Koepke 10-3.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.