In a quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten tournament, Matta's Buckeyes had knotted the score at 34 in the second half. A game that to that point had seen just 14 fouls called suddenly came to a grinding halt when OSU center Kosta Koufos was whistled for an offensive foul with 13:21 remaining.
It was the start of a span that saw the Buckeyes whistled for five fouls. The end result was a five-point deficit that would ultimately prove to be too much for OSU to overcome.
"I really do think the game changed," senior Othello Hunter said. "I don't know if they were really fouls, but I think it changed it."
Koufos was whistled for a charge when MSU's Goran Suton flopped to floor as Koufos drove the basket. Asked after the game whether it was truly a charge or not, Koufos just rolled his eyes.
Ten seconds later at the other end of the court, MSU forward Raymar Morgan flew to the basket on a dunk attempt. Koufos attempted to block the shot and was whistled for the foul, although replays seemed to indicate that Koufos found all ball with his block attempt.
Morgan hit the first free-throw attempt, giving the Spartans a one-point lead with 13:11 remaining.
From there, it got ugly. After the teams traded possessions, Koufos was again whistled for a foul on a rebound attempt for his third personal foul overall. This one came with 12:52 remaining.
Already incensed, the Buckeyes headed to the defensive end of the court. Suton again drove the basket, but this time Koufos' block was whistled clean. The MSU big man gathered his own rebound and went up for another try.
This time, Hunter was whistled for the foul – and he was not happy about it.
"I was just like, ‘Dang,' and I was showing so much emotion looking at (the official) with an angry look all pissed off," he said. "My emotions were just going off."
Angry, Hunter clapped his hands and was promptly whistled for a technical foul. That raised OSU's second-half total to eight – twice its first-half total – and sent Spartan guard Drew Neitzel to the line along with Suton.
Each player converted both of his chances, and the end result was a 39-34 MSU lead.
Hunter was immediately consoled by both Koufos and swingman David Lighty, but the damage had already been done.
"I told him there was a lot of time left in the game and it was going to be alright," Lighty said. "The refs made a bad call and gave him the technical for clapping or something like that, but there was still a lot of time left in the game."
From there, the Buckeyes would only get back to within two points one time en route to a seven-point loss.
"It was a big shift," OSU freshman guard Evan Turner said. "Some of those were fouls; some of those resulted in a (four)-point play. Some of those, they took away our buckets and that was just crazy. It happens, but wow."
In the week leading up to the game, MSU head coach Tom Izzo had been lobbying for his team to get better calls from the officials. After the game, Matta was asked if he thought the other coach's crusade had paid off for his team.
"I have to be careful," he said with a laugh.
Hunter finished the game as one of four Buckeyes in double figures with 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds. He immediately headed to the bench after the technical but returned at the 11:06 mark.
He eventually fouled out, ironically, with 42 seconds remaining. He never received an explanation from the officials for the call, and Hunter said Matta only asked him what it was he said to earn the call.
Regardless of what the officials heard – or what Hunter actually said – the end result was a temporary momentum shift that swung the game over to the side of the Spartans and proved to be too much for a young Buckeye squad to overcome.
Not that you will find them using that as an excuse, however.
"Maybe that gave them the momentum for a minute, but after that we cut it back to three two or three times, so obviously that didn't put the game away," Terwilliger said.