Before the match, Duke head coach Glen Lanham removed his shoes and socks with the slow, calm precision of Mr. Rogers. He and his staff coached barefoot to benefit Samaritan’s Feet, a charity that provides shoes for impoverished people worldwide. But at the end of the match, it might have been Lanham who needed new footwear as he took his displeasure out on the laces while retying his shoes.
Following a 24-13 defeat at the hands of visiting North Carolina that kept his team winless in the conference and dropped it back to .500 overall, Lanham’s frustration was clear after his team spent the majority of the match within striking distance of the Tar Heels.
North Carolina ran out to a 7-0 lead with a pair of early victories, including a landslide 14-2 major decision by Tar Heel sophomore Alex Utley against Blue Devil redshirt freshman Dylan Ryan, but redshirt senior Diego Bencomo, the winningest wrestler on the Duke roster, turned the tide in the third match.
Bencomo—one of three seniors honored on senior night in Card Gymnasium—opened his match aggressively against Frank Abbondanza, earning a quick two points with a takedown fewer than 20 seconds into the contest.
“He came out like gangbusters... and the guys continued to feed off that,” Lanham said.
Abbondanza hung with him early, though, keeping Bencomo’s lead to just one point before Bencomo reeled off a 6-1 run that lasted until the final minute of the second period. Abbondanza made a late surge, but Bencomo held him off for a commanding 21-12 victory, the 78th win of his career.
It looked as though the Tar Heels might easily take back the momentum in the next match, however, as Duke heavyweight Brian Self matched up against North Carolina’s Jake Barnhart, who outweighed Self by nearly 20 pounds.
“Self weighs—soaking wet—probably like 208, and I think that guy weighed like 230,” Lanham said. “Self is savvy. He knows how to use his speed.”
Self took a patient approach against the bulkier Barnhart, keeping the match scoreless until an escape from the second-period restart gave him a 1-0 lead. Barnhart answered with an escape of his own to tie the match at 1-1, but a late point for Self as the third-period clock ran down gave the Duke junior a 2-1 win to bring the Blue Devils back into a 7-7 tie.
Peter Terrezza, another senior night honoree, took the mat in the 125-pound weight class with a chance to put Duke ahead for the first time in a conference match this season. Terrezza and North Carolina freshman Nathan Kraisser wrestled a close match early before Kraisser capitalized a narrow Terrezza miscue to earn a sudden pin early in the second period.
“Petey got caught over the top with a scramble,” Lanham said. “Petey was wrestling a real solid match, and everybody was excited. The team was excited about it, and he just got caught in a position that he shouldn’t have been in. I told him, Petey, you’ve got to learn how to bail out of that position, give up the two and then live to fight, but I think for him it was all or nothing. And unfortunately it was nothing, because the guy ended up coming on top of him and pinning him.”
Those six points gave the Tar Heels a 13-7 lead in the match, and the Kraisser pin kicked off a three-match winning streak for North Carolina before redshirt freshman 149-pounder Marcus Cain held off a late charge from Christian Barber to secure a 9-7 win and three more points for Duke.
Immanuel Kerr-Brown followed Cain’s win with a low-scoring effort against North Carolina’s Christopher Mears, who Mears tied the match at two with an escape to open the third period. But a crucial late takedown put Kerr-Brown back up 4-2. Mears was not to be denied, and he earned last-second tallies to send the match to sudden-death overtime.
“I thought I was actually ahead in the match, so I was a little confused when we went into overtime,” Kerr-Brown said of his fifth straight win after he was the only Blue Devil to emerge victorious from Saturday’s rout at Maryland. “He took a bad shot, and I was able to capitalize and get on his leg, and I knew it was over then.”
An aggressive Kerr-Brown needed 45 seconds of the minute-long overtime period to take Mears down near the edge of the circle and bring Duke back within striking distance for 165-pounder Randy Roden. But Tar Heel redshirt freshman John Staudenmayer dominated the final match to secure North Carolina’s victory at 24-13.
“We have to wrestle with more of an urgency,” Lanham said. “We’ve got to put two shots together and we have to close a little better.... I tell these guys, ‘Right now, you’re either winning or learning. You’re not losing.’”