Illinois wrestler Isaiah Martinez referred to Penn State’s Zain Retherford by one word in the back halls of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday — “Killer.”
In the end, that word might’ve also best described the Nittany Lions’ semifinals after the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. And not in a good way.
Retherford wrestled well and advanced to the finals. But only two of his teammates — Jason Nolf and Mark Hall — will join him, despite the Nittany Lions having seven semifinalists.
Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson didn’t sound too pleased either.
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“We wrestled OK; we didn’t wrestle great,” he said. “We lost some tough matches. We got to wrestle tomorow. Our guys need to wrestle with a little more enthusiasm. We didn’t. We will see how we respond tomorrow.”
Retherford had an unconventional path to the 149-pound title match — his third conference final. He had to wrestle three matches. He did so in style.
Retherford pinned his first opponent in 6:12, pinned his second opponent in 4:46 and finished the day off with his third pin in 6:01. He will take on Ohio State’s Micah Jordan.
“Any chance I can to step out on the mat, it’s fun,” the redshirt junior said. “Going into the third final, (mindset) same as always. Be free and open up. He is a talented wrestler. Who cares what the opponent is going to do? Focus on what you do well and have fun with it.”
Nolf also had a pin parade on his way to the 157-pound finals. He took care of Wisconsin’s TJ Ruschell in 5:59 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, he stuck Minnesota’s Jake Short in 6:09. Nolf takes on Iowa’s Michael Kemerer.
Hall, who was making his Big Ten Tournament debut, pinned his opening opponent in 29 seconds at 174 pounds. He then edged Illinois’ Zach Brunson 4-2 in the semifinals. Hall gets Ohio State’s Bo Jordan. The two were to square off in the dual earlier this season, but Jordan was unable to go.
Vincenzo Joseph (165 pounds), Bo Nickal (184), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) all suffered semifinal losses and dropped into the consolation semifinals.
Joseph suffered an 8-5 decision to Martinez. Nickal took on Ohio State’s Myles Martin in a rematch of the NCAA 174-pound finals. The result was the same — a Martin win, this one 6-4.
McCutcheon had a shot of upsetting No. 1 Brett Pfarr of Minnesota. He led 3-1 early in the match, but Pfarr tallied 10 unanswered points for the 11-3 win. Nevills took on Wisconsin’s Connor Medbery and couldn’t get a takedown in a 3-2 loss.
Jimmy Gulibon was upset in the 141-pound quarterfinals by No. 7 Javier Gasca III of Michigan State. Gasca caught Gulibon and pinned him. Gulibon responded with a 7-3 decision over Michigan’s Sal Profaci in the second round of the consolations. However, Maryland’s Ryan Diehl tossed Gulibon to his back in the quarterfinals and pinned him in 46 seconds.
Gulibon wrestles for seventh place Sunday morning.
Penn State led the team race to start the second session by two points over Ohio State. After the session was over, the Buckeyes collected six finalists and hold a commanding 18.5 point lead.
“We are down some big points right now,” Sanderson said. “We will see what we are made out of. (The finalists) got to be themselves, go out there and score points. The other lot have to score some points. We need some major points on the back coming through. It’s not over ’til it’s over. We are going to have some fun tomorrow.”