Last season, Rutgers men’s basketball relied very heavily on its starters. A major reason was the star power they had with all five receiving All-Big Ten recognition. However, part of it was also due to the lack of reliability from its bench. While the back end of the rotation had some big moments during the season, the reserves lacked consistency. In two postseason games that were both losses, the bench was held scoreless.
Coming into this season, two players looking to step up into starting roles were Mawot Mag and Aundre Hyatt. Both averaged 12 minutes off the bench last season backing up Ron Harper Jr. However, there was likely only one spot to start between the two of them.
Midway through the preseason, Caleb McConnell injured his knee and ended up missing the first five games this season. Looking back, it might have been a blessing in the development of Mag and Hyatt. Both started and gained experience playing big minutes.
When McConnell did come back, it was Hyatt and not Mag who changed roles. Instead of sulking, complaining or letting the change negatively impact his play, Hyatt has been a steadying force for Rutgers off the bench. His consistent production in multiple areas has been a major reason the Scarlet Knights have started Big Ten play with a 4-2 record.
Last season, in 12.8 minutes per game Hyatt averaged 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds. He shot 35.3% from the floor, 27.1% from three-point range and 63.4% from the foul line.
This season, Hyatt is playing 24.8 minutes per game and averaging 10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1 steal. He’s shooting 39.5% from the floor, 31.9% from three and 76.3% from the foul line.
After starting 11 of 41 from three-point range through the first nine games this season, Hyatt has made 12 of 31 for 38.7% in the past eight games.
Aside from being third on the team in scoring, it’s been Hyatt’s versatility on defense that has made him an asset. While Mag has emerged as the best post defender this season, there isn’t much drop off when Hyatt is in the game. His physicality and toughness allow him to defend taller opponents inside. He has also proven capable in defending the perimeter as well, giving wings and guards fits with his strong 6’6” frame.
There are several very good sixth man players in the Big Ten. Malik Hall from Michigan State, Connor Essegian from Wisconsin, Brandon Newman from Purdue and Jayden Epps from Illinois are all key contributors for their respective teams. However, Hyatt is making a case as being the most valuable sixth man in the league.
Only Essegian is scoring more at 10.3 points per game, just o.2 more per contest. Hyatt is the only sixth man in the top 40 in the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding. His offensive impact is more than just scoring. Hyatt has third highest offensive rebounding rate and third lowest turnover rate on Rutgers.
In the comeback road win at Northwestern on Wednesday, Hyatt contributed 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal. He hit a two big shots down the stretch. However, it was his toughness that shined brightest. When Northwestern missed a shot trailing by 1 point and just seconds remaining, Hyatt acted. He fought his way into a scrum for a loose ball and won a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed to Rutgers. Cam Spencer knocked down both foul shots, the Wildcats missed a desperation three and the Scarlet Knights pulled out another Quad 1 road win.
“I loved his defense today,” said head coach Steve Pikiell after the win. “He is averaging 10 points and doing an unbelievable job. Big threes, two assists, no turnovers and stuck his nose in there for three rebounds. He is a veteran guy and he hit some big ones. I love his poise down the stretch and his continued development is very important for us.”
Hyatt’s experience from LSU and last season have made him a seasoned veteran. Previously a highly sought after recruit, injuries and being behind star players in rotations have presented challenges. He has continued to work hard and has developed into a complete player.
Hyatt isn’t the most efficient player on offense, but he plays with confidence and has made some big shots this season. His maturity and ability to stay ready, game in and game out has been key. His focus and steady play is an asset for Rutgers. He’s scored 8 or more points nine times coming off the bench this season.
Aundre Hyatt isn’t going to flinch or be intimidated in big moments. Hitting two free throws late in the game after being subbed in cold in front of a manic Assmebly Hall last season against Indiana proved that. His mentality and toughness has made a big impact on this team. Hyatt also makes good decisions and plays within himself in key spots.
There is a long way to go, but it feels pretty safe to conclude that as far as Rutgers can go this season, Hyatt will play a major role in their journey. It doesn’t matter whether he starts, but rather how he helps this team close out games. His ability to do that so effectively and embrace his role is a big positive for this team.
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