SYRACUSE — It wasn’t hard for Blue Collar U to reunite quickly and re-build the chemistry he created last summer when he qualified for the semifinals of the basketball tournament.
That became evident in the opening minutes of a 91-64 victory over NG Saints in a TBT first-round game on Friday at Onondaga Community College, when the University at Buffalo alumni team led until to 17 points in the first quarter.
However, the end of Elam posed some difficulties for the UB contingent – although the team quickly prepared to earn a cash bonus.
Up 88-62 after Xavier Ford’s lay-up, Blue Collar U needed three points to reach the target score of 91. Three players, however, missed 3-point attempts that would have closed out the win – a pair of shots from Edric Dennis Jr. ., a shot from CJ Massinburg and a shot from Lamonte Bearden.
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Dennis’ final 3-point attempt went in and took the win.
“It was amazing, like I was back in Dallas, in the backyard with CJ Massinburg,” Dennis said. “I can’t describe how good it was to have that.”
Blake Hamilton, who scored 16 points and had six rebounds for Blue Collar U, laughed at the thought of watching four 3-pointers before Dennis finished the game.
But Hamilton explained that long-term attempts also come with some incentive. A contest sponsored by Puma awards $1,000 to the player who hits the last shot of the game and wears Puma sneakers on the court.
Blue Collar U adopted a certain strategy in the Elam Ending: their players changed into Puma sneakers during their last time out, and Dennis got a nice bonus.
“Everyone is trying to get a 3-pointer and hit the big shot,” Hamilton said. “Fortunately, we weren’t in a situation where we needed it. We were comfortable ahead. I think it was more fun, and you saw our guys cheering everyone on. It was a fun experience for sure.
Blue Collar U, the No. 2 seed in the Syracuse area, will take on the No. 3 Friday Beers in a second-round match at noon Saturday at SRC Arena. The winner advances to the regional final on Monday.
Blue Collar U’s roster is mostly made up of UB alumni, but Dennis played college basketball at TCU, Texas-Arlington and Jackson State. He began his career as an agent at Family First Sports Firm, and he was best friends with Massinburg from Dallas.
“He introduced me to everyone,” Dennis said. “I would be on FaceTime when Buffalo was playing, every tournament, every conference game, every regular game, I’m still on FaceTime with him, having a great time. It is my family. Last year is really when I started hanging out with them, because I was in college myself. But the TBT allowed me to return to the field with my best friend, and they are also my brothers.
Hamilton’s 3 straight points gave Blue Collar U a 14-6 lead about five minutes into the game, part of a 13-0 run that opened up the alumni’s lead from UB at 19-6. Blue Collar U held a lead of at least 13 points for the duration of the first, en route to taking a 29-15 lead in the second, as Hamilton went 5-for-5 from the floor. By comparison, NG Saints were 6 of 15 from the floor in the first.
“Blake is probably one of the most talented players I’ve ever met, and he’s an even better person,” Dennis said. “Blake told me in practice that he was slacking off a bit, and he was like, ‘Ed, I’m going to get going.’ The next day in training he flipped it to the max and carried it over to the game. Practice counts. You practice the way you play.
Halfway through the second, Blue Collar U had used their full lineup and opened their lead to 47-27 with less than two minutes left in the half, on a 3-pointer from Massinburg (16 points).
Then Blue Collar U held NG Saints to 1-of-5 shooting in the first three-plus minutes of the third quarter, and Massinburg’s 3-pointer with 54 seconds left in the third gave his side a 74-plus lead. 40, his biggest lead in the game so far.