(97.1 The Ticket) If Michigan State had Bucknell on the ropes, the knockout blow came in the form of a technical foul assessed to Zach Thomas with a little over six minutes to play.
It knocked Thomas out of the game and left him searching for answers following his team's loss to the Spartans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
Asked to provide a breakdown of what happened on the play in question, Thomas began, "I'll try."
"I drove from the top of the key, bounced it to (center) Nana (Foulland), and I thought he got fouled. ... It was a physical game. I thought (the refs) maybe missed a couple of calls, or (Foulland) got fouled on a couple of others before that.
"I was just backpedalling and I said, 'What are you watching?' from about half court. (The ref) was still on the baseline. I didn't think he was looking at me. But apparently he heard me and he didn't like it. I shouldn't have said it, but I mean, I didn't agree with the (technical). At least warn me or something."
At the time, Michigan State was up 66-52 and Thomas led all scorers with 27 points. The Patriot League Player of the Year was Bucknell's only hope of closing the gap. Instead, the senior's career came to a premature end.
His coach, Nathan Davis, shouted at the ref in consternation, "You just threw him out of the game!" and Thomas later walked off the court with tears in his eyes. Davis said he did not receive an explanation from the officials regarding the call.
Bucknell only made the final score close thanks to a barrage of last-minute threes.
The refereeing was a source of frustration for both teams. Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. was limited to seven minutes of playing time after picking up a questionable foul early in the second half. And Joshua Langford was assessed perhaps an even more dubious technical than Thomas shortly after Thomas fouled out.
Langford said the ref took exception to a message that was intended for Miles Bridges.
"I said something to Miles. I was telling Miles to try to get out of the way," Langford said. "It is what it is. We won the game."
Tom Izzo was incredulous at the call.
"I can't believe Josh Langford got a technical. He hasn't said a word since he's been on campus. There were some questions I had on some things," Izzo said.
He added later, "That technical on Josh Langford, I'll go to my grave saying there's no way. Just because I know the kid. There's times I wish he would get one."
Izzo was furious with a number of calls, stomping up and down the sideline throughout the game and screaming in the nearest official's ear every chance he got. He was able to laugh about it -- somewhat -- afterward.
"I'm not setting up a birthday party with those guys, that's for sure. I didn't like the way it went. I really didn't. But they probably didn't like the way I was either," Izzo said. "I understand that."
3-seed Michigan State plays 11-seed Syracuse, who knocked off TCU Friday night, Sunday at 2:40
for more features.