After rare coach ejection, Ohio State, Chris Holtmann look to move forward from MSU loss
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The last time an Ohio State men’s basketball coach wasn’t around for the final whistle of a game, he literally couldn’t say much at all.
Thursday night at the Breslin Center, Chris Holtmann struck a balance. During what would become a 71-67 loss to Michigan State, Holtmann said plenty. It earned him an exit from the game with 1.4 seconds left after Duane Washington Jr.’s attempted shot through contact did not result in a foul call, sealing the win for the Spartans.
After the game, however, he was measured, emotional and occasionally downright angry when discussing how a nine-point lead evaporated, sending the Buckeyes to a second straight loss.
It wasn’t Jim O’Brien suffering from a paralyzed vocal cord holding up a whiteboard reading “This is sad” in a loss at San Francisco to open the 2003-04 season, but it was certainly memorable. Holtmann picked up one technical foul with 16:45 left in the first half after a no-call on an E.J. Liddell shot in the paint, setting up the early exit.
“I’m not going to talk specifically about the officiating,” Holtmann said. “Give (Michigan State) credit. They played more physical, played with more force. It’s my fault on the technicals.”
Seeking their first series sweep of Michigan State since the 2006-07 season, the Buckeyes had weathered an early push from the resurgent Spartans but were clinging to a two-point lead minutes into the second half when Liddell missed a shot from close range through a barrage of contact. No call was made, but a whistle blew as play headed back up the court.
Holtmann was given a technical as he unloaded on the referees for the no-call. Joshua Langford then hit both free throws to tie the score at 40 with 16:45 to play.
“In that moment, honestly, I just thought that 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 good player. He also has to own the fact that he needs to play with more force if this is how the game’s going to be called. Obviously we didn’t prepare him quite well enough for this. … I thought E.J. deserved the call.”
Liddell finished with a team-high 18 points, but 10 of them came from the free-throw line as he made only 4 of 13 field-goal attempts.
“It just showed coach Holtmann has our back,” Liddell told The Dispatch after the loss. “He’s passionate. He truly felt that things weren’t going our way so he had to use his voice a little bit more. We took that on the chin and he showed what type of coach he is. He really cares.”
One of the three officials for the game, Brooks Wells, had called Ohio State’s 83-79 home win against Penn State on Jan. 27, a game in which he scrapped with Holtmann, frequently glaring at him after calling fouls on the Buckeyes.
On Thursday, both teams were called for 21 fouls. Ohio State attempted 23 free throws, only two fewer than Michigan State. The Buckeyes also had a banked-in three-pointer taken off the board late in the first half following a video review after Washington hit a desperation heave from straight on as the shot clock buzzed.
Asked what the officials told him about that call, Holtmann shook his head, looked down and said, “Um, yeah, the explanation was that it was close. I understand your question and appreciate it and wish I could say more, but (it) would’ve been an important three points.”
The tension finally reached a boiling point at the tail end of the game, when Ohio State director of professional development Terence Dials — a former forward no stranger to physical battles against the Spartans — helped guide Holtmann to the locker room and save him from any further outbursts after he picked up his second technical.
The Buckeyes have asked the Big Ten to review the officiating in the game but don’t plan to spend much time on it with a Sunday showdown against No. 9 Iowa looming. The focus quickly shifts forward now toward the Hawkeyes and the hope of getting senior Kyle Young back from a concussion that sidelined him against the Spartans.
Fifth-year senior guard CJ Walker said the way the MSU game ended will fuel the Buckeyes.
“Nobody likes to lose games,” he said. “We had to come together as a team. I said some things to the team that we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better, get prepared for our next game and be ready to win that game.”