Balloons fell from the SECU Arena rafters, the marching band moved to the beat of Green Day's rock anthem "Holiday," and the Towson men's basketball team's starting lineup was introduced under a spotlight at home for the first time in the program's 54-year history.
The crowd roared in approval as the lights dimmed and the four-level scoreboard overhead pulsated, a moment that would have been impossible in the old Towson Center, which was retired in March.
And between the black-and-gold bleachers of a $68 million arena, the Tigers faced more pressure than ever to prove that last season's luster wasn't merely fool's gold.
The Tigers (1-0) met the challenge, easily beating Navy, 72-45, in their first regular-season game in their new home.
"We felt like we knew what we came here to do. We're here to win," said senior guard Mike Burwell, who scored 13 points and added eight rebounds. "When the lights turned off, I got jitters. My heart started to race."
Towson forward Jerrelle Benimon backed his distinction as Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year with six points, four assists and 17 rebounds. Sophomore guard Four McGlynn had five 3-pointers, with three in four possessions to put the Tigers up 29-14 early. They entered the locker room at halftime up 39-23.
"To sit out last year and be around the other guys helped a lot," said McGlynn, who sat out last season after transferring from Vermont. "It makes it a lot easier to score when you get some great passes."
The Tigers made waves in the CAA last season, completing the largest single-season turnaround in NCAA history by going 18-13 after a 1-31 record in 2011-12.
The expectations flipped this offseason, and the Tigers were voted the CAA's preseason favorites.
"I really feel like this team can be good," Towson coach Pat Skerry said. "I want us to be really good, all the team. Everyone is jacked up. It's hard not to be excited about what's going on here.,"
Before the game, Tim Leonard nervously paced outside the southeast gate. Towson's athletic director inherited the revitalized program when he took the post in August. He wasn't worried about his squad's chances on the court, but he was anxious about the arena's unveiling.
"You only have one inaugural night," he said. "We're still working out some kinks. That's what I'm nervous about."
The opener didn't come without hiccups. A ceiling light blew out near the backside entrance during the women's game, a 56-55 loss to Navy, but no one was injured. An announced 4,262 was in attendance, with empty seats in both the lower and upper bowls.
But for the most part, Towson saw only positives from renovations that included revamped locker rooms, brand-new treatment and recuperation machines, and expanded equipment storage.
Towson alumnus and donor John Beynon, who watched with his family from courtside seats, said the arena's structure was appealing.
"Most arenas start at the bottom and go up, and you feel enclosed," Beynon said. "Here, it's wide open. The arena feels bigger than it actually is."
Maravene Loeschke spent most of her time cheering from the sideline, sporting a No. 12 jersey and looking more like a Towson student than the university's president. She later returned to her luxury box, one of five mezzanine-level private suites stocked with a personal liquor bar and other amenities.
Thinking of the priority seating afforded by 60 luxury box seats, 340 club-level spots and 104 courtside chairs, Loeschke imagined days when the arena could be used for graduations, concerts and other special gatherings. The location has the most seating on campus, she said.
"It's meant to be shared. It's not just for basketball," Loeschke said. "It's designed in such a way that the community can use it for the Special Olympics, you can bring in fundraisers, concerts, student events. It's a place where a lot of us can be together."
Michael Chanaud, a sophomore accounting major, said the student body was excited about the changes, and the added expectations created by a winning team in a new arena.
"Everyone was really excited, finally getting out of the Towson Center," Chanaud said. "It was really boring, it just wasn't as exciting. There was no hype there."
In the recesses of the arena, the hallways were a starkly unadorned white. While the public sections were ready for opening day, this area was still a work in progress. At some future date, they will be covered with team photos and commemorative murals.
This year's Tigers team, like its new arena, is still unfinished. But after one game, Towson fans were happy with what they saw.
"It's a major weapon. It's really exciting, not just for basketball and athletics, to have an environment like this," Skerry said. "It's what college basketball is supposed to be like at this level, and I think it will only grow. We've come a long way from playing in front of 17 people at the Towson Center, maybe."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun