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Gophers big man Pharrel Payne cracked a smile in the postgame news conference after Sunday's 81-70 win against Rutgers, but it wasn't for what you would expect.

Payne posted a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds against the Scarlet Knights. After his breakout performance, though, the 6-9 sophomore beamed because his cellphone ringtone of a barking dog went off before he could answer the first question from the media. Hilarious.

Payne chuckled and then refocused when asked what it was like to battle Purdue's Zach Edey and Rutgers' Cliff Omoruyi in back-to-back games. There was no doubt the Gophers (16-9, 7-7 Big Ten) wouldn't have ended a two-game slide without him taking Sunday's matchup seriously.

"It just gives you that aspect of what it takes to compete against those guys," Payne said. "I was able to bring that into this game."

Here are four things learned from the Gophers' win Sunday, their third consecutive at home:

Dr. Payne

Not long after Sunday's victory over the Scarlet Knights, the Gophers reposted a link from their NIL (name, image and likeness) collective with Dinkytown Athletes about purchasing "Dr. Payne" T-shirts and his replica No. 21 jersey. They already had the merchandise available, but Payne lived up to the name with how he punished Rutgers in the paint. It started in the first half when he matched Omoruyi by grabbing 13 points, shooting 6-for-9 shooting. He added six rebounds.

Payne, a Cottage Grove native, had 21 points combined in the past three games, but he clearly came with a different edge and confidence to open Sunday's game. The Gophers threw the ball inside early. Payne used his 255-pound frame to be physical against Omoruyi, the No. 2 shot blocker in the nation.

"Cliff is one of the most athletic and talented bigs in our league," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said. "And he went blow for blow. He didn't back down. That's a sophomore against an upperclassman. He's getting better and more confident each and every day."

On one move in the first half, Payne ripped through his opponent's arms at the free-throw line, drove to the rim and finished with contact. That set the tone with how difficult a night it would be to defend him.

Fouling was the only option to stop Payne. He missed six of 11 free-throw tries, but Payne also got opportunities off the glass with seven of the team's 11 offensive boards.

"I thought he was possessed on the glass," Johnson said. "I thought he got some statement rebounds. Those are loud rebounds. That trickles down to everybody else on the floor. They see a guy go up there and get it, there's an intensity to that."

Great defense, better offense

It started with establishing a post presence with Payne, but the Gophers were as impressive as any opponent against Rutgers this season overall offensively. Actually, they were the best in one area. No opponent shot better than Minnesota's 51% from the field this season against the Scarlet Knights, who entered the night ranked No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by The only other opponent to shoot 50% against them this season was Illinois in an 86-63 loss Jan. 21 in Champaign.

The Illini were a top-15 team nationally led by All-America guard Terrance Shannon Jr., so that shows the Gophers' potential. There were glimpses of that even in defeat when the Gophers shot the lights out from three-point range and saw Dawson Garcia excel to take halftime leads at Purdue and Iowa.

On Sunday, Payne led five Gophers who scored in double figures. It wasn't the most efficient night for Garcia, who had 14 points and shot 4-for-10. But he made some big plays down the stretch.

So did Elijah Hawkins while breaking out of a slump. He shot 4-for-23 from the field and 1-for-12 from three in the previous three games but finished with 16 points and shot 3-for-4 from three-point range Sunday.

Mike Mitchell Jr. (12 points) quietly had his third consecutive game in double figures. He's shooting a scorching 10-for-19 from three and 9-for-9 on free throws during that stretch. Cam Christie had his sixth consecutive double-figure scoring game Sunday, the longest stretch for a Gophers freshman since Amir Coffey in 2016-17. Coffey, the program's last All-Big Ten freshman, was in attendance for the Rutgers game.

Uncharacteristic turnovers

The Williams Arena cleaning crew might have found some of Johnson's sweat on the floor near the sideline late Sunday night. The Gophers being careless with the ball down the stretch in the second half surely made the Gophers coach a nervous wreck when a 17-point lead shrunk to 72-66 with 2:11 to play.

Rutgers isn't typically a full-court pressing team, but the Scarlet Knights worked to force four straight turnovers late. The Gophers finished with 11 of their 15 turnovers in the second half, including eight from Hawkins and Garcia.

The Gophers entered the night averaging just 11.8 turnovers this season, including just 9.7 turnovers per game in the previous three games. That included losses at Purdue and Iowa.

Opponents might press the Gophers in the future to see whether the tactic can create havoc again. Hawkins is the nation's assist leader but can be out of control at times. Other Gophers needed to value the ball better in crunch time as well.

Stripe success

There was a point this season when missed free throws cost the Gophers a chance to win games, but that's not the case anymore. The outcome could possibly have been different Sunday without a strong finish at the foul line when Rutgers pulled within striking distance with less than two minutes left.

After Garcia went 1-for-2 from the line, Derek Simpson missed a three-point try that would have cut Minnesota's lead to four points with about 90 seconds remaining. The Gophers grabbed the defensive board and wouldn't miss another foul shot the rest of the game.

Hawkins and Mitchell combined to shoot 8-for-8 on free throws in the last 1:23 to extend the lead back to double figures. The Gophers ranked 12th in the Big Ten in free-throw shooting before Sunday (66% in conference play), but they went 15-for-19 at the charity stripe in the second half.