CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Matt McDonough stepped off the awards podium Sunday and shoved his silver medal in a nearby trash can as he made his way down the tunnel inside Assembly Hall.
The conclusion to the Big Ten Championships turned out to be a final round that Iowa wanted to toss aside and leave behind.
The Hawkeyes left the conference tournament without individual conference gold for the first time in seven years, failing to manage even a takedown in their four title bouts as they dropped out of title contention and finished third in the team race.
“It’s not rocket science, we’ve got to be tougher, there’s no doubt,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “But we’ve got to do certain things to be tougher. … In my head there’s a lot of specifics and it starts with finishing and it starts with urgency in those situations.”
Penn State won all four of its championship matches to capture its third straight Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions piled up 151 points to finish 12 ahead of the second-place Gophers.
“We can wrestle better, but we had some guys wrestle really well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “But this is the second-most important tournament to us.”
The most important begins on March 21 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The Nittany Lions and Gophers qualified all 10 of their wrestlers.
Nine Iowa wrestlers placed fourth or better and secured automatic tickets to the NCAA Championships. But a 3-6 performance in the last round left the Hawkeyes stuck in third with 133.5 points and carrying a collection of medals that weren’t their color of choice.
McDonough has been all about gold since he started his career with the Hawkeyes, and his results set a standard that the rest of the nation’s 125-pounders have been targeting.
Illinois sophomore Jesse Delgado scored four takedowns in a 10-4 victory, denying McDonough his third Big Ten title.
“Since I got to college, he was the guy I had to beat,” said Delgado, the only wrestler to defeat McDonough more than once during the last four seasons. “That’s two, almost three years of getting ready for this guy. He’s not going to get that on me, not when I’m on my A game.”
The issue for the Hawkeyes is figuring out how to get their two-time NCAA champion back on top of his game in the next two weeks. McDonough could fall on the same side of the bracket and run into Delgado again in the NCAA semifinals.
“There are certain things he knows he has to do, but he’s not doing them,” Brands said. “We’re going to have to be very solid and we’re going to have to get a hold of him and we’re going to have to do what we need to do to score points there.”
It turned into a team-wide struggle for points during the finals.
Ohio State’s Hunter Stieber scored three takedowns in an 8-3 victory against Mark Ballweg at 141 and Penn State’s Matt Brown whipped Mike Evans to his back for five points to gain control at 174 on his way to a 7-3 win.
Stieber’s older brother, Logan, a defending NCAA champion, scored a takedown in overtime to beat Iowa junior Tony Ramos 3-1 in a battle of unbeatens at 133.
“I guess I can go the whole seven or eight minutes,” said Logan Stieber after wrestling a full match just the second time since November. “I was ready to go another overtime. I always think I can do that, but until you actually go to overtime and win an overtime match … it’s nice to know I can feel good still and get a takedown on one of the best guys in the country.”
Ramos said he needs to give himself more scoring opportunities against Stieber, who has handed the Iowa junior four of his five losses during the past two seasons.
“There’s improvements,” Ramos said. “It’s getting closer every time. Now I’ve got two weeks to get it right.”
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS
1. Penn State – 151
2. Minnesota – 139
3. Iowa – 133.5
4. Ohio State – 109.5
5. Illinois – 85.5
6. Michigan – 75
7. Nebraska – 61
8. Northwestern – 56
9. Purdue – 38
10. Wisconsin – 37
11. Indiana – 30.5
12. Michigan State – 22
IOWA CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH RESULTS
125 – #3 Jesse Delgado (ILL) dec. #1 Matt McDonough (IOWA), 10-4 (3:04 RT)
133 – #1 Logan Stieber (OSU) dec. #2 Tony Ramos (IOWA), 3-1 (SV1)
141 – #1 Hunter Stieber (OSU) dec. #3 Mark Ballweg (IOWA), 8-3 (1:52 RT)
174 – #5 Matt Brown (PSU) dec. #2 Mike Evans (IOWA), 7-3 (2:29 RT)