After Blue Collar U’s run in The Basketball Tournament ended one game shy of the final last summer, the former Buffalo basketball stars made sure to finish the job this year.
Blue Collar U was on top of Americana for Autism from the opening tip, leading by as many as 22 points en route to an 89-67 victory in the TBT final Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Blue Collar U brings home $1 million in the winner-take-all format. Stars CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Wes Clark will earn $100,000 apiece, fellow starters Blake Hamilton and Dontay Caruthers will earn $85,000 and the rest of the players and coaches will earn between $15,000 and $60,000. (Teams can split up the prize money however they want.)
“It was a tough-fought game,” Clark said in the postgame interview. “For us to get this grind-it-out win, it’s just amazing — on top of the million dollars.
“[It took] preparation. We all took this thing serious. We all wanted this money; we all wanted to get back out here and compete. We knew we left some things out there last year, and we just wanted to finish the job.”
Blue Collar U came up one game short of the final last season, falling in the semifinals to Team 23 after Clark’s TBT ended early due to a hamstring injury. With a healthy Clark back in the fold, it was the class of this year’s tournament. He led the team in scoring and hit the game-winning shot in the semifinal against Red Scare, but five different players led the team in scoring overall entering the title game.
On Tuesday, it was another balanced effort: Each quarter featured a different leading scorer. Perkins led the way with 19 points, while Massinburg had 18 points and eight assists, and Clark had 17 points.
“A lot of guys here, on this Buffalo team, have more to prove,” Clark told ESPN on Monday. “Just for us to get that chance to compete with the other guys, ex-NBA players, guys playing at the highest level in Europe. To compete and show the rest of the world we can play at that type of level, with that type of competition. It’s cool to be here, but to excel against them is another thing.”
With former Buffalo and current Alabama coach Nate Oats — who coached the Bulls to blowout NCAA tournament wins over Arizona and Arizona State in 2018 and 2019, respectively — watching courtside, Blue Collar U dominated from start to finish.
Perkins scored the opening points of the game to give Blue Collar U a 2-0 lead, and it never relinquished that advantage. Hamilton had a pair of key baskets early in the contest, and Clark then hit three straight 3s to push Blue Collar U’s lead to 13 with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Clark had 14 points in the first quarter, and Blue Collar U took a 25-13 lead into the second.
After turning over the ball five times in the first quarter, Americana for Autism began to take care of the ball and get some stops on the defensive end. But after cutting the deficit to nine points with 5:34 left in the second quarter, Blue Collar U’s offense came alive again. This time it was Lamonte Bearden, who had eight straight points and scored 10 points total in the second quarter. The lead grew to as many as 16 points, with Blue Collar taking a 45-31 lead into the break.
A pair of Nigel Johnson 3-pointers early in the third quarter gave Americana for Autism some hope for a comeback, but Blue Collar U responded with an 8-0 run over the next minute to push the lead to 18 points. With Clark going briefly to the locker room with an injury, it was Perkins’ turn to take control on the offensive end. The big man had 10 points in the third quarter. Massinburg was quiet in the first half, but he scored five straight points to extend Blue Collar U’s lead to 22 points with 1:59 left in the third.
With the Elam Ending in sight, Americana for Autism got the lead down to 11 on multiple occasions, but it couldn’t get within single digits. Massinburg continued his stellar play in the final period, scoring seven straight Blue Collar U points — a contested step-back jumper, a 3-pointer and a layup in traffic — to give it some breathing room entering the Elam Ending.
Composed mostly of former University at Buffalo players, Blue Collar U dedicated each win in TBT to the victims of the May shooting at a Buffalo supermarket. Ten players wore a victim’s name on the back of their jerseys, while three jerseys read “Buffalo Strong.” After each win, they would put the jerseys on the floor in a circle and pray for the victims.
“We’ve always been more involved in the city. This hit home and gave us an opportunity to shine a lot on something devastating to the city. There’s nothing more important,” Clark said Monday. “The community is so close to us. When we go back, we bump into a million people; they all congratulate us and say how excited they are. Everybody gives you that kind of belief and understanding that we’re all in this together.”