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LI’s Dylan Palacio wins one, loses one in NCAA wrestling at the Garden

Cornell University wrestler Dylan Palacio works to escape

Cornell University wrestler Dylan Palacio works to escape LeRoy Barnes of Mizzou in their preliminary bout at the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2016. Credit: Ray Nelson

To understand the way Cornell junior Dylan Palacio behaves on the mat, you must understand the self-described “insane kid running around causing chaos” he was as an elementary school student . . . in art class.

Long before Palacio was competing at the NCAA wrestling championships at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, the Long Beach High School alumnus hated art. To him, the class was 45 minutes of shackles on his inner Jackson Pollock. In front of him lay a blank canvas, and behind him was his teacher, shouting instructions: “paint it this way, draw it that way.”

“Even as a kid I constantly questioned this,” said the fifth-ranked 157-pounder, who defeated LeRoy Barnes of Missouri, 7-3, in the opening round before falling to No. 12 Brian Murphy of Michigan, 8-7.

But every now and then, a substitute teacher would fill in and lift the shackles.

“Art suddenly became the most magnificent thing,” Palacio said. “I could do whatever I want. Paint whatever or glue whatever I wanted, however I wanted. It was freedom.

“That’s my approach with wrestling. Just be free out there. People forget that it’s a sport of passion. It’s your art. So when you’re out there, put a little emotion into it.”

In his first-round bout, Palacio used a takedown in the first period, a reversal in the second and another takedown in the third to help him earn the win. In between, the mat was his canvas, and he was the paintbrush.

“I give the people something to talk about all the time,” Palacio said. “I give them the charisma they want to see.”

But such spiritedness can be a double-edged sword, as was seen in his second-round loss. Murphy earned a takedown and two back points to go up 4-0. Palacio then used a reversal to get within 4-2, but Murphy responded with a reversal of his own to make it 6-2 at the end of the first period.

“He’s got to finish cleaner. He was being a little reckless,” Cornell coach Rob Koll said. “He wrestles like his personality, so he can be a little all over the place. Sometimes that works for him, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Palacio dropped into the consolation bracket, where he must win five consecutive bouts to place third.

“I have all the confidence in the world that he’s going to bounce back here and get on that podium,” said Palacio’s high school coach at Long Beach, Ray Adams.

Palacio was the lone wrestler with Long Island ties to win his opening bout. Hofstra’s Jamel Hudson (St. Anthony’s alumnus) and Mike Hughes (Smithtown West), Nebraska’s Anthony Abidin (Hills East), Binghamton’s Steven Schneider (MacArthur) and Rutgers’ Sean McCabe (Connetquot) all fell in their respective openers.

In the consolation bracket, McCabe was eliminated with his fall to Brandon Jeske (Old Dominion) in 3:20. Abidin trailed 9-3 after one period before defeating Jameson Oster (Northwestern), 12-9. Hudson earned a 13-5 major decision over Steve Bleise of Northern Illinois.

It is the first time in the Garden’s 135-year history that it has hosted the NCAA wrestling championships. A sell-out crowd of 17,805 attended Thursday night’s session.

“You can’t beat these bright lights, so no matter what, you have to put on a show,” Palacio said. “I posted this on my Facebook: ‘I got love inside of me, my city behind me, and an opportunity in front of me.’ . . . You can’t beat that.”

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