Chris Holtmann knew the questions were coming.
“I'm not going to talk specifically about the officiating,” he said, starting out the answer to his first question before continuing.
“Give them credit,” he continued. “They played more physical, played with more force. It's my fault on the technicals.”
Holtmann, the fourth-year Ohio State head coach, was referring to the pair of technical fouls he earned while arguing non-calls with the officials in the second half of his team’s 71-67 loss to Michigan State on Thursday.
In a game that featured 42 total personal fouls – 21 on each team, with four players on each side accruing at least three fouls – he and Tom Izzo both visibly showcased their frustration standing on their respective teams’ bench areas. Yet Izzo managed to avoid the wrath of officials while Holtmann got the boot after his second technical of the night.
Initially, Holtmann came unglued with 16:45 remaining on a play where he believed E.J. Liddell got fouled. The sophomore forward missed a shot underneath the rim, drawing enough contact in the eyes of his head coach that he thought Liddell should have earned a trip to the foul line. Instead, an incensed Holtmann laid into the referees as Duane Washington Jr. and several assistant coaches held him back.
“I think in that moment, honestly, I just thought plays that were normally called fouls in most of every Big Ten game were not being called fouls,” Holtmann said. “I thought that was an obvious one and expressed that. Certainly you want to fight for your guys. E.J.'s a really good player. He also has to own the fact that he's got to play with more force if this is how the game's going to be called. We've got to prepare him for that better. Obviously we didn't quite prepare him well enough for it. We're always going to fight for our guys. We're going to fight for what we believe is right, not just for any other reason than I thought it was a foul and I thought E.J. deserved the call.”
By that point in the game, Holtmann had already made his opinion known to the referees about his thoughts on their performance. Ohio State was called for goaltending in the first half, with the officials hearing it from the head coach after that.
Then, later in the first half, a Washington 3-pointer was deemed a shot-clock violation even though replays televised on ESPN appeared to show him getting it off before the buzzer. It was ruled Michigan State ball, preventing Ohio State from adding three points to its tally.
Holtmann took a long pause before answering a question specifically about the call on Washington’s shot.
“You know ... Um. Yeah, the explanation was that it was close,” Holtmann said after shaking his head. “I understand your question and appreciate it and wish I could say more. It would've been an important three points.”
By the time the game was down to the wire, Holtmann had seen enough.
CJ Walker’s Hail Mary of a pass to Liddell bounced all the way across the court to the baseline on the other end of the arena, going out of bounds. Holtmann had seen enough. He let the officials know what he thought about their evening, picked up his second technical to earn an ejection, shook Izzo’s hand and left the court with just a couple seconds to go.
“He's just passionate,” Walker said. “He just wants to win a game. That's our coach. That's what he stands for is winning. He was just doing what he thought. His emotions got into it right there. He just showed his passion. He just wanted us to win a game. That's what happens when you're competitive. Your emotions get built up and things like that. That happens. It happens to the best of them. It happens as players, it happens as coaches as well. It's just one of those moments. His passion just got the best of him right there. It was just a slight mistake.”