Ben Johnson knew the day would come soon when he had to give his first locker room speech after his Gophers men's basketball team suffered a loss.
After seven straight wins to open the season that moment came after Minnesota fell 75-67 Wednesday night against No. 19 Michigan State at the Barn.
The Gophers (7-1) dealt with adversity so well to pull off several comeback wins before Wednesday, but how they handle defeat for the first time moving forward will be their biggest challenge yet.
"They had some blown opportunities in the first [half]," Johnson said. "Against a good team and a well-coached team, you cannot have those blown opportunities. They make you pay every single time. It was definitely a learning experience for our guys, and we need to take that with us to Michigan on Saturday."
The Spartans were the Gophers' first ranked opponent this season, so Johnson learned more about his players against Big Ten competition than probably any other game to date. One bright spot was showing the fight to nearly erase a 19-point deficit in the second half.
Here are four more things we learned from the Michigan State loss on Wednesday:
Curry can carry
Coming back from multiple season-ending injuries to play a sixth season and hold off retirement was a remarkable story in itself, but senior Eric Curry is now adding another key chapter to his tale.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward and captain is playing the best basketball of his career.
The Gophers were hanging around Wednesday despite shooting a miserable 30% from the field in the first half. A big part of that was Curry scoring 10 of his career-high 18 points. He was also even more efficient scoring in the second half with eight points on 4-for-4 shooting.
There are no plays run for Curry. He gets his baskets mostly from jump hooks, or layups and pull-up jumpers off the screen and roll. It was the second straight game where he outplayed the opposing center, including with 12 points in Sunday's 81-76 win at Mississippi State.
How long can Curry keep this up offensively? He had one double figure scoring game last season, but already has back-to-back such games for the first time in his career. Confidence is there for this to continue.
Having a low-post scoring threat in the Big Ten could open things up for Minnesota's shooters to have a better night than they did against the Spartans.
Settling for jumpers
Curry was about the only offense the Gophers had going to open Wednesday's game, but it wasn't that other players were afraid to take shots. They were just taking suspect ones.
Whether it was Payton Willis, Jamison Battle or E.J. Stephens, the Gophers' top three scoring leaders this season were more comfortable settling for jump shots early against Michigan State.
They shot 2-for-11 from three-point range in the first half, but they also didn't take many layups. Battle had some shots to fall in the second half, but he also drew fouls and went to the free throw line.
The sophomore forward made up for a slow night for Willis (eight points on 3-for-15 shooting) by heating up with 14 of his 17 points in the second half. Battle's jumper just under the eight-minute mark ignited a 26-13 run that was capped with a Luke Loewe three-pointer that cut it to 73-67.
The second half surge wasn't all outside shooting. The Gophers drew fouls and Battle went 4-for-4 from the foul line, but they also turned steals into transition baskets. They scored 11 of their 18 fast-break points and 11 of their 13 points off turnovers after halftime.
Three and D
Three-point defense was probably as important to the Gophers' undefeated start as anything else, holding opponents to 23% shooting beyond the arc through seven games.
Michigan State walked into a hostile environment Wednesday and shot the lights out against the Gophers from long distance, especially in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting.
The Spartans were 10-for-21 for the game from three-point territory (47.8%), which was first opponent this season to reach the double digit mark in threes made. Mississippi State was close with 9-for-29 shooting on Sunday, but the Gophers countered going 12-for-29 from long distance.
It's pretty simple. If you give up three-pointers, then you've got to make them to make up for that difference. That didn't happen enough Wednesday as the Gophers were 6-for-23 (26.1%) on threes.
There were several sequences Wednesday night when the Gophers were in the right spot defensively to contest shots and box out, but that didn't seem to bother the opponent much.
Michigan State's size, length, and athleticism at certain positions enabled players to shoot and rebound right over the defense. That seemed to happen most often with 6-8 Gabe Brown, 6-8 Malik Hall and 6-9 Joey Hauser, who combined for 40 points, 24 rebounds, and 7-for-11 shooting from three.
Spartan freshman Max Christie, a 6-6 guard, struggled with consistency, but he still had nine points, five rebounds, and three blocks.
It's easy to focus mostly on the Gophers being undersized in the frontcourt, especially against opposing big men 6-10 or taller. But the size disadvantage is also a factor on the perimeter against power conference foes.
On Saturday, Michigan features 7-1 center Hunter Dickinson, but they also have 6-8 freshman Caleb Houstan on the wing. Something in favor of the Gophers, though, would be a taller starting backcourt 6-4 Willis and 6-4 Loewe over the Wolverines with 6-1 Eli Brooks and 6-1 DeVante' Jones.