It was like old times Sunday afternoon at 84-year-old Memorial Gymnasium.
The facility, known affectionately as “The Pit,” was the home court for University of Maine basketball teams from 1935 to 1991.
The America East women’s semifinal was the first playoff game held at the facility since March 9, 1991. And it was rocking.
A near-capacity crowd of 1,233 served as a sixth man for the Black Bears, who overcame an early 12-point deficit to beat UAlbany 66-51 and earn a berth in Friday’s 5 p.m. championship game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“I knew there would be be a good crowd, and I knew it would be loud but not that loud,” said UMaine guard Parise Rossignol, a graduate student from Van Buren. “It made it hard to play defense sometimes. You couldn’t hear if a screen was coming.
“It was a special experience.”
The Black Bears practice at The Pit, but their home court is the Cross Insurance Center. A scheduling conflict Sunday with the Professional Bull Riders’ Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour forced UMaine to move the game to Orono.
“We always have a good crowd, and it’s really important to have them behind us. But it was really special [on Sunday]. It was so loud. You couldn’t even hear your teammates,” junior Blanca Millan said.
“They loved it. They couldn’t hear me at all,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said.
UAlbany coach Colleen Mullen and senior forward Heather Forster also enjoyed the atmosphere in the building.
“It was loud and it really gave you a tournament atmosphere,” Mullen said.
“It was a good environment for the kids. It was hard to hear, but it created energy for both teams.”
She said the crowd noise did make it difficult to communicate with her players at times, but they had prepared for it.
“Just the atmosphere of everyone being over you really led to a lot of energy,” Forster said.
The last time the UMaine women played at the The Pit was Nov. 10-11, 2017, when they hosted the Tip-Off Tournament. UMaine drew 1,054 to its opener, a 42-34 loss to Tulane, and 855 for its 76-51 win over Harvard.
UMaine Senior Associate Director of Athletics for External Operations and Communications Tyson McHatten said there were several meetings and substantial preparation that went into getting the venue ready for the game.
“We had to make sure everything was as organized as possible so people could get safely to their seats,” McHatten said. “Our facilities staff checked to make sure all the old wooden seats were safe. We also had events staff members at each stairwell and up top to escort people to their seats. They were also in the front lobby to greet people and answer any questions they had.”
Media members sat at a courtside table rather than in the balcony as was the case for the recent regular-season games held there. The pep band and cheerleaders occupied the balcony.
“I wanted to replicate the setup we have at the Cross Center,” McHatten said. “And the sight lines aren’t very good in the balcony.”
McHatten praised athletic grounds and arena manager Eric Stoup and events coordinator Garry Munroe for their efforts preparing the facility. Munroe and his staff put signs up to help the fans find seats, restrooms and concessions.
“There was a great basketball atmosphere in there,” McHatten said. “People were right on top of the action and every possession really mattered to the fans.”