PISCATAWAY — For the past three years, Saint Peter's coach John Dunne told guard Yvon Raymond not to shoot from 3-point range unless he was wide open.
Fortunately for the Peacocks, Raymond was wide open when it mattered most Friday night against Rutgers, and the senior guard responded with what he called "definitely the biggest shot of my career."
Raymond drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner off a driving assist from Blaise Ffrench, and SaintPeter's stunned Rutgers 56-52 in the season opener for both New Jersey teams.
"Nice drive and kick by Blaise, who found him, and (Raymond) is a guy that for three years I told him I'm not sure I need you shooting 3s," Dunne said. "But he proved me wrong. He worked so hard shooting shot after shot all spring, summer and fall, and it paid off for him. He shot it with confidence."
A career .125 percent (2-for-16) 3-point shooter before this season, Raymond scored five of his eight points over the final two minutes as the Peacocks beat Rutgers for the first time since 2007.
"I just lined it up, shot it and it went in," Raymond said. "That was definitely the biggest shot I ever had so far. You put yourself in position to make these shots every day in practice. I was just playing the game, and it came to me."
Desi Washington shook off a 2-for-10 first half by scoring 12 of his game-high 18 points over the final 19 minutes for Saint Peter's, which shot 56.5 percent in the second half and 45.8 percent for the game. Markese Tucker scored 11, Darius Conley added 10 points and Ffrench contributed nine assists for the Peacocks, who started on a positive note after concluding a 5-26 campaign by dropping 12 of their final 13 games last season.
Picked to finish last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Saint Peter's entered action with a 35-120 record all-time versus Big East foes, including a 2-11 mark against Rutgers.
"It feels good to beat Rutgers," Raymond said. "They're a Big East team. A lot of people counted us out already because we had a terrible season last year. But we stick together and we took it at them."
"Quite honestly, we're 1-0," said Dunne, downplaying the upset over Rutgers. "It's coach speak, but at the end of the day, it's the truth. If we turn around and lose on Monday in our home opener, then what's this win do? I mean, it's tremendous for the Saint Peter's community, our fans. But for us and in our little family inside that locker room, they should celebrate this win tonight, but we need to get back to business and we need to be 2-0 come Monday."
Wally Judge, a transfer forward from Kansas State who sat out last season, posted 11 points and 12 rebounds in his debut and Austin Johnson contributed 10 points for Rutgers, which shot 36.5 percent from the field, including 2 for 12 from beyond the arc, for the game.
"This is a little bit of a shock to be honest," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "This was a shocker, and something that I'm going to learn from. I'm going to make sure these guys learn from what they didn't do. They didn't respond. Give Saint Peter's tremendous credit, the toughness that they showed."
Johnson had six of his 10 points during an 8-2 spurt to give Rutgers its largest lead, 39-32, with 11:33 to play. But Tucker helped rally the Peacocks back by scoring seven points over the final 11 minutes, and Raymond's 3-pointer from the corner with 68 seconds left gave Saint Peter's its first lead since 31-30 with 16:11 to play.
"I think if it got down by more than (seven points), you start to get concerned," Dunne said. "But really it's about your own confidence. Coming off a year when you only have five wins, confidence can be an issue. But these guys are confident."
Rice couldn't say the same about his team, which hadn't lost a season opener since falling to Princeton to open the 2010-11 campaign.
"The characteristics of last year's team reared its ugly head whether it was selfish plays or softness," said Rice, who has 10 letter winners, including nine with starting experience, back from a squad that finished 14-18 last year. "Give Saint Peter's tons of credit. We got a lot of work to do. I'm anxious to see how they respond.
"We're going to amp up practice as far as toughness drills go. It's the same thing. It's probably a little bit of a lack of buy-in. We have a rope in the locker room and you have to hang on. It's symbolic of everybody's holding onto the rope. You're there for one another. And right now we don't have that. Right now we're a little bit too individual oriented, and I'll have to fix that."