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It's easy to see why Ben Johnson's Gophers relied so much on three-point shooting during a recent stretch in Big Ten play. They couldn't miss at times.

Look no further than the Iowa and Purdue games on the road, where the Gophers combined to hit 17 of 24 threes in the first half. They led in both games at halftime but eventually lost.

Three-point shooting is something the Gophers consider a strength, but it isn't their identity.

When Johnson's team is playing winning basketball, it's establishing a post presence with Dawson Garcia and Pharrel Payne and being able to complement that by playing downhill and shooting from distance.

Opponents being more physical and controlling the paint equals problems for the Gophers, most notably in Sunday's 73-55 loss at Nebraska.

"They have a reputation now," Johnson said. "Teams are going to challenge that. They know if we're not physical, not tough, and not aggressive, we're going to be in trouble."

The Gophers (17-10, 8-8 Big Ten), who are vying for a critical road win Wednesday at Illinois, are coming off their lowest scoring game of the season after shooting 31% from the field, including 26% from beyond the arc in Lincoln.

The Illini, led by guard Terrence Shannon Jr., really live off points in the paint, tied for second in the Big Ten and 25th nationally at 38.1 points per game. The Gophers average 31.6.

Getting points in the paint might help spark the Gophers. Garcia and Payne need a bounce-back game to live up to the "Thunder and Lightning" nickname given to the frontcourt duo.

"They're two very important players for our team," Gophers guard Cam Christie said. "They're really dominant. We have to find ways to get them on the board and get them feeling confident."

Nebraska double teamed Garcia and Payne defensively on almost every post touch Sunday, holding them to a combined 13 points on 3-for-12 shooting. They had 37 points together in last week's 88-79 win against Ohio State. They also combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds in a win vs. Rutgers.

Veteran forward Parker Fox provided a spark off the bench at Nebraska with more points (eight) than Garcia and Payne combined (five) in the first half.

"I think we have the best frontcourt in the Big Ten," Fox said. "I think we can dominate things down low. We have to keep going inside to guys like Pharrel and Dawson to lead us. Then, eventually defense will help, and we have great shooters ready to knock down shots."

Minnesota's backcourt of Elijah Hawkins, Christie, Mike Mitchell Jr., and Braeden Carrington helped the team shoot 45% from three (49-for-109) during a recent five-game stretch, which included wins vs. Michigan State, Rutgers and Ohio State at home.

That hot streak came to a screeching halt when the Cornhuskers' stingy defense held the Gophers to 6-for-23 shooting from long distance Sunday, including 1-for-11 in the first half.

Even before Garcia and Payne were shut down vs. Nebraska, though, the Gophers were starting to see opponents get a slight edge in points in the paint. Not necessarily from the post but off dribble penetration, too.

In a Feb. 3 win against Northwestern, the Gophers finished with a 32-18 advantage in points in the paint, but they've been outscored in that area in five of six games since — and by an average of eight points.

The Gophers have one of the top frontcourt tandems in the league, but being physical and getting points inside doesn't just fall on Garcia and Payne. Minnesota's four guards combined for just five field goals inside the arc Sunday, but they also shot an abysmal 5-for-20 from three.

"We need to be able to do both," Johnson said. "You have to be able to stay aggressive and not lose that [identity] even though you're making jump shots. At the end of the day, defense travels and living in the paint travels."