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Florida Gulf Coast vs. Nebraska, 11.8.13

Drummer Tommy Lee, left, and DJ Arrow get things moving during pre game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.

Lights, fanfare, flashy pregame videos, Tommy Lee in the DJ booth, Karmin performing the national anthem and the Nebraska marching band all ushered in the Huskers' first game at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

For some fans -- 15,119 fans -- it marked the beginning of a new era.

A new arena, a new entertainment district and the promise of an entertaining basketball team coached by Tim Miles, an entertainer in his own right, led to season tickets being snapped up before summer.

“Hopefully, it’s kind of regenerated the fan base,” said Gary Lee, who purchased season tickets for the first time since moving back to Lincoln. “It should mean good things for the team.”

The Nebraska men's basketball team didn't disappoint on opening night, winning 79-55 over Florida Gulf Coast, the underdog that made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Earlier on Friday, the nationally ranked Nebraska women defeated UCLA 77-49 to kick off a slam dunk of a day.

The women's game drew more than 9,000 fans. And while there were some empty seats in the upper balcony of the arena for the men's game, it was the first crowd of more than 14,000 for a home Husker men's game since 2002.

“We’ve always been Husker fans, but we felt Tim Miles had the energy to turn the team around, and we just wanted to be a part of it,” said Rodney Schubert, a first-time season-ticket holder.

Bill Larsen purchased his first season tickets this year, too. The new venue piqued his interest, and hopefully, he said, will improve the program and fan support.

“Our plan right now is to go ahead and keep buying (season tickets) … but things can change.”

While students lined up hours before the game, waiting to claim their seats, other fans shuffled in after stopping for a drink in the Railyard or a bite to eat at one of the restaurants near the arena.

That’s something Brock Zautke couldn’t do when the games were at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

“(It’s) nice that there’s something to do in the area instead of leaving right away,” he said.

Now that there is, Zautke, a 2010 UNL graduate, jumped at the opportunity to be a first-time season-ticket holder and check out the arena he voted for.

The arena’s atmosphere was like that of a NBA team, said UNL senior Garrett Johnson, who purchased season tickets for the first time. Plus, the new West Haymarket development gives students other options when going downtown, he said.

Tekamah natives Carolyn and Bruce Riddell have been season ticket holders since the opening of the Bob Devaney Sports Center in 1976.

“You keep holding on just in case they get a really, really good program rolling down here,” Bruce Riddell said.

Reach Jourdyn Kaarre at 402-473-2655 or jkaarre@journalstar.com.

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