TALLAHASSEE — Leonard Hamilton's eyes said it before his lips even moved. Reality, the dark pupils suggested, had finally sunk in: This was going to be a challenging year for his young Florida State Seminoles.
That realization had long been rattling around inside Hamilton's head, but Sunday afternoon, as the coach prepared for a midweek game against the surging Minnesota Golden Gophers, he said it for the first time.
Tuesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center, his players may have begun sensing the same thing.
Losing to No. 21 Minnesota 77-68, the Seminoles came up short in an ACC-Big Ten Challenge meeting for the fifth straight time. They are now 6-8 all time in the Challenge and 2-2 against Minnesota during it.
The loss ended FSU's four-game winning streak.
"Minnesota played with a lot more fire," Hamilton said. "They were a lot more aggressive. I thought that we would have been the team that would be extremely aggressive. We've been inconsistent with it."
Poor shooting helped do in the Seminoles. They shot 38 percent from the field. In the first half alone, they made only 7 of 20 shots they took from inside the 3-point arc.
"To come into Tallahassee here, on the road, against a very tough team, we knew we'd have to play well," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought we showed that we had competed against some good competition. (Tuesday night) we took another step in the right direction."
FSU trailed from the opening tip.
It wasn't until the second half when FSU's shooting improved, particularly outside the arc. The Seminoles made three 3s in the half, one by guard Michael Snaer, who scored 12, and two by guard Terry Whisnant.
Whisnant's 3s kicked off a 12-7 run that lasted for about five minutes in the middle of the second half. About 60 seconds after it, freshman guard Montay Brandon drove near the elbow, spun quickly on a foot and lofted a one-handed short-range jumper over his defender.
That scoring flurry melted away with about six minutes left in the game when Minnesota began dialing in again. Center Trevor Mbakwe started the Gophers' resurgence when he hit two free throws that stalled the Seminoles' momentum.
"You've got to give Minnesota credit," Hamilton said. "They did the things they had to do to keep us at bay."