The first coach, Chris Holtmann said repeatedly, was justified and accepted without hesitation.
But the second one and the circumstances that preceded it were a different story.
Needing a win to break a stretch of seven losses in eight games, Ohio State quickly fell behind an equally desperate Wisconsin team Thursday night at Value City Arena. The Badgers opened the game on an 8-0 run and never trailed in what would have been a 65-60 victory, but Holtmann wasn’t around to watch most of it. When sixth-year forward Justice Sueing was called on a charge with 27.7 seconds remaining in the first half to deny a made field goal, an angry Holtmann charged up the field and made his feelings known to Kelly’s umpiring team Pfeifer, John Higgins and Courtney Green.
Before long, Holtmann was gone. It was the second ejection of his Ohio State career.
“I’ve been sent off twice,” he said. “I asked once. The game was over. I have coached hundreds of games. Never even come close to expulsion. This was an official that I feel I can’t communicate with the whole game. Unfortunately, the first technician was justified. I deserved the first technician. I don’t think the second one was, but the officials will do what they want and I need to be more composed in that situation. I was not composed. This is about me.
The first coach came from Courtney Green, who officiated three Ohio State games earlier this season. The second came from John Higgins, though Holtmann did not identify him by name in his postgame press conference.
When asked what the referees had told him as the technical fouls were being assessed, Holtmann said: “I couldn’t tell myself anything. I couldn’t talk to them. I couldn’t talk to him. I couldn’t talk to him all night. All we want to do as coaches is talk to officials. I couldn’t talk to any of them.
“I couldn’t speak for the whole half. I didn’t want to hear it.
The charge call was the second call for Ohio State during the first half. Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn tied one off Brice Sensabaugh with 13:56 remaining and the Badgers ahead 15-10.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said the Big Ten needs to do a better job of simplifying the rulebook and not continually add addendums that prevent umpires from simply calling the play as they see it. Holtmann said matches are refereed differently than they were a few weeks ago.
“I think the flop was much better called earlier in the season,” he said. “I’ve clearly done a terrible job of getting our guys to understand that there’s a technique to it. I’m not taking anything out of Wisconsin. They beat us. I said, I lost my temper, it was my fault.
Holtmann was last ejected in a 71-67 loss to Michigan State on February 25, 2021, when he caught a second technical foul with two seconds left.
Higgins came under national scrutiny during a Monday night ESPN broadcast of a Texas vs. Baylor game. That was his third game in as many games after umpiring at Stanford on Saturday, Purdue on Sunday, and then Texas on Monday. Higgins, who is rated the fourth best official in the nation by KenPom.com, was in Kansas on Tuesday and Drake (Des Moines, Iowa) on Wednesday before arriving in Columbus for Thursday night’s game.
The dismissal helped the Badgers create some breathing space that would come in handy later. Had Sueing’s bucket counted, Ohio State might have been 37-30 after trailing by as many as 15 points during the half. Instead, freshman guard Connor Essegian, an 89.5% free throw shooter, scored all four attempts and Hepburn sank a jumper with two seconds left to send the Badgers practically floating to their locker room with a lead by 43-27 in the first half thanks to that six-point possession.
“I wish I could talk to officials,” Holtmann said. “That’s all I would ask. I’ve coached hundreds of matches and haven’t been kicked out. The first technician was guaranteed. I thought it was a flop. I thought the video concluded that this was a flop. They’re trying to take him out of the game. They didn’t. Give them credit. He took the hit. I think it was a flop. I said it. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. I deserved the first technical intervention, but after that I think it was…”
He didn’t finish his thought there, but the implication seemed clear enough.
Third-year center Zed Key, who was among those trying to hold Holtmann down and keep him from being sent off, said the move showed the coach is fighting for them even as the losses pile up.
“It definitely set us on fire,” he said. “(Isaac Likekele), he said, ‘Look, we have to pick it up. Holtmann is out there fighting for us and we are not giving it back to him.’ “
Get more Ohio basketball news You’re listening to our podcasts
This article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch: USO’s Chris Holtmann, On Deportation: ‘Couldn’t Talk To (Officials)’