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 mid-week 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 revalation for themselves.
Losing to 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 also comes on the heels of a four-game winning streak that included wins over BYU and St. Joseph's in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Definitely a game like this and the South Alabama game [a season-opening loss] has definitely humbled some of these younger guys and humbled us, too, that any team on our schedule can beat us," forward Okaro White said. "We try to learn from tough losses like this."
A young, promising team, the Seminoles (4-2) are undergoing the type of growing pains in this season's early days that Hamilton hopes won't last. Still, he knows he has to brace for the possibility that they could.
Lacking effort and energy from his team helped factor in the loss, Hamilton said.
"We just didn't give them the same type of effort that they gave us," he said. "That's part of the challenge that you'll face with a team sometimes that's trying to find itself. I don't want to try to sugarcoat it. That's pretty much who we are. We just need a few more games under our belts.
"But we need to not lose games while we're developing."
Hamilton was a little surprised at the lacking energy because the Seminoles were facing a Minnesota team that was playing its fourth game in six days. The Gophers (7-1) spent last weekend facing Duke, Memphis and Stanford in the three-day Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in The Bahamas.
White also had hoped the Seminoles would be able to better compete with the Gophers from a conditioning and energy standpoint.
"Coming off those three games in The Bahamas, we did mention that if we run and keep on pounding them, their legs were going to wear," White said. "But give credit to them. They did what they do, which is offensive rebound."
While the Seminoles won the offensive rebound battle 20-17, they had been losing it much of the night. In the first half alone, Minnesota held an 11-9 advantage on the offensive glass.
"I've never played any game like that where a team did that to us," White said of how physically the Gophers played the offensive boards.
Poor shooting also played a role in FSU's loss. The Seminoles shot 38 percent from the field. In the first half alone, they only made seven of the 20 shots they took from inside the 3-point arc.
FSU trailed from the opening tip.
"Sometimes you have those nights," Hamilton said. "To be honest with you, we did have some pretty good looks in the first half. As a coach, you know if you keep taking good looks, sooner or later, they'll start falling. This was one of those nights, though, where they never started falling."
It wasn't until the second half when FSU's shooting improved, particularly outside of the arc. The Seminoles made three 3s in the final 20 minutes of the game. Guard Michael Snaer had one of them, helping boost his final scoring numbers to 12 points. Guard Terry Whisnant had the other two long-range shots. He finished with 10 points.
Both of Whisnant's 3s kicked off a 12-7 run that lasted for about five minutes in the middle of the second half. Both shots came in a three-minute span. About sixty 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, though, when Minnesota began dialing in once again. Center Trevor Mbakwe started the Gophers' resurrgence when he hit a pair of free throws that stalled the momentum the Seminoles had been creating.
Before Mbakwe's free throws, the Seminoles had cut the game to within a 10-point deficit.
About 30 seconds after Mbakwe's shots, with 5:33 left in the game, Minnesota guard Joe Coleman hit a mid-range jumper that extended the lead. Eleven seconds later, a Coleman layup swelled the lead to 14.
Forward Terrance Shannon was FSU's leading scorer, finishing with a double-double. He had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota was paced by Coleman, who had 16 points.
While the Seminoles struggled overall Tuesday, Gophers coach Tubby Smith doesn't believe it will be long before FSU turns things around.
"They're going to be an outstanding team. They're going to be a very good team," Smith said. "They're going to gain valuable experience, and they're going to mature just like all of Leonard Hamilton's teams always do. They'll be ready to play. They'll win a lot of games this year."