SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WIVB) — The championship reign for Buffalo’s alumni basketball team succumbed to the vaunted 2-3 zone synonymous with the name Boeheim.

Blue Collar U, winners of The Basketball Tournament and its $1 million prize last summer, was eliminated from this year’s bracket with a 69-54 loss to 2021 champion Boeheim’s Army in the Syracuse regional final on Friday night at The Oncenter War Memorial.

C.J. Massinburg, MVP of last summer’s championship run, said the Bulls were disappointed with the loss but resolve to reconvene for TBT next year.

“We’ll be back again,” Massinburg said. “This is the highlight of our summer. We never thought we’d get to play with each other again after college. This was a fun week for us, even though we came up short.”

The Bulls built a 14-point lead in the first quarter before the home team switched to a zone defense that changed the course of the game. Blue Collar U missed its last 20 shots from the perimeter, finishing 4-of-28 (14%) from 3-point range against an Orange opponent that had significantly more length and strength around the basket.

“Their length kind of bothered us, but it was just a bad shooting for us,” Massinburg said. “Against a team like that with 6-9, 6-10, 6-10, you have to have a good shooting night. Or at least a decent one.”

The Bulls weren’t that much better inside the arc (36%) and even struggled at the foul line (63%) while hustling to force 19 turnovers and grab 19 offensive rebounds, which amounted to 18 more field goal attempts.

“We just needed one or two more to drop,” said Blue Collar U coach Adam Bauman, the former University at Buffalo operations director now working with Nate Oats at Alabama. “I think when we started missing shots, our energy waned on the defensive end and that’s when they got their separation, that happens in the game of basketball.”

With retired Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim sitting on the baseline to watch six of his former players, including son Jimmy, the team named in his honor used his signature defense to go on a 17-2 run and take a 31-30 lead into halftime after Blue Collar U established an early 21-7 advantage.

“When we started missing shots, our energy waned on the defensive end and that’s when they got their separation,” Bauman said. “That happens in the game of basketball.”

Grant Riller, a second-round NBA draft pick out of Charleston in 2020, led the Orange with 29 points, sinking the winning shot from long range during TBT’s signature Elam Ending.

Nick Perkins led the Bulls with 19 points and nine rebounds. Star guards Massinburg and Wes Clark combined for 11 points on 4-of-27 shooting. Massinburg matched Perkins with nine rebounds. This was the first time the Bulls lost in 12 TBT games with Clark in the lineup.

But the TBT experience offered more than competition and the pursuit of a $1 million prize for the Bulls.

“This whole deal is bigger than the game,” Bauman said. “It’s about family. It’s about staying connected to each other and the brotherhood we built when we were at Buffalo.”

“It’s our full intention to be back next year with this group,” he added. “We are so fortunate to get together as a team. We are fortunate to coach these guys again, as some of the best guys who came through Buffalo. It’s really been a blessing to coach them, see them as fathers, hanging out in the locker room. My young son is hanging out with their kids. To me, that’s why I did it.”


Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.