The game’s the game, even when it’s played in an end zone.

That was the gen­er­al sen­ti­ment a­mong fans and play­ers this week­end at the first basket­ball games played in­side U.S. Bank Stadium.

Connor Bair, a seni­or for­ward at the University of St. Thom­as, is the an­swer to the fu­ture triv­i­a ques­tion of who scored the first bas­ket there. The Pri­or Lake na­tive made a lay­up in the Tommies’ game with the University of Wis­con­sin-River Falls. He also had the first dunk, near the end of the game.

“Once you start play­ing on the court with the lights shin­ing on it, you don’t see any­thing else,” he said.

His team­mate Mi­chael Han­non, a seni­or guard from St. Paul, add­ed, “You just fo­cus on the rim.”

St. Thom­as won the first game played on a 3-foot-high plat­form at the Vi­kings’ new­ish home, which op­ened in Au­gust 2016. The re­sults mat­tered to the Tommies and the oth­er teams who played Fri­day and Sat­ur­day nights, in­clud­ing the Golden Go­phers, but the games count­ed even more as the NCAA-re­quired warm­up for the big dance — the three NCAA Final Four games that will be played in the dark­ened build­ing A­pril 6-8.

For the four games this week­end, the basket­ball court was near­ly in the east­ern end zone, per­pen­dicu­lar to the foot­ball field. The an­nounced crowd of 12,357 was a frac­tion of the 70,000 ex­pect­ed for the Final Four games. The small­er crowd posed no prob­lem for the build­ing, which played host to the Su­per Bowl in Feb­rua­ry.

For the tour­na­ment games, the court will be placed at mid­field and ori­ent­ed the same as the Vi­kings’ field. The lights will be bright­er, the $5 mil­lion black­out cur­tains will be in place, and the crowd will be loud­er and six times big­ger.

To St. Thom­as coach John­ny Tauer, the dis­trac­tions of the once-in-a-life­time game end­ed at tipoff. “It’s 94 feet by 50 feet, and that’s your fo­cus,” he said.

A bo­nus: Beer

Fans ap­peared to en­joy them­selves as well, lin­ing up at the drink rail un­der the mas­sive vid­e­o screen, chowing down on nachos, bur­gers and fries washed down with beer or chat­ting with friends while track­ing the ac­tion on the tele­vi­sions ring­ing the con­courses.

“If you’re a fan, you’re a fan and you’re going to love it,” said Joe Petrulo, a University of Min­ne­so­ta a­lum­nus who at­tends games at Wil­liams Arena and came Fri­day night with his friends, all of them in Go­phers shirts and jack­ets

Petrulo, 28, said the build­ing didn’t have the in­ti­ma­cy, en­er­gy or noise of the Go­phers’ true home court, Wil­liams Arena, on the near­by cam­pus, but he was for­giv­ing. “Ev­er­y­one here under­stands it’s a tri­al run,” he said, add­ing that the Go­phers’ 83-76 vic­to­ry over Oklahoma State made the ven­ue’s short­comings tol­er­able.

His friends, like many oth­ers, were en­joy­ing read­i­ly avail­able beers — un­u­su­al for a col­lege game.

Sean Welch, an­oth­er Go­phers alum, was char­ging his cellphone and crack­ing open a can him­self. “I like the beer be­ing served; it makes a big dif­fer­ence,” he said, smil­ing.

While he en­joyed the eve­ning, he wasn’t sure a­bout re­turn­ing for the Final Four. “We would see what tick­ets are avail­able; it would also de­pend on the teams,” he said.

Petrulo was en­thused a­bout be­ing in the build­ing for the two Final Four semi­final games and the cham­pi­on­ship. “If I were here for the Final Four and it was packed and there were good teams play­ing, it would be awe­some,” he said. “I’m a big Kan­sas Jayhawks fan, so if they’re here, I’ll be here.”

March Mad­ness starts with 68 teams and is played over three weekends, cul­mi­nat­ing in 2019 on Mon­day, A­pril 8. No­bod­y will know who’s play­ing in Min­ne­ap­olis un­til the last week­end of March.

The Go­phers, who de­feat­ed the Cow­boys, all but shrug­ged off the new ven­ue as just an­oth­er court, though for­ward Amir Cof­fey called the at­mos­phere “ex­cit­ing.”

‘A spe­cial night’

Even when the build­ing was much qui­et­er Fri­day night, the Tommies, many of whom grew up as Vi­kings fans, got what they called a sur­real op­por­tu­ni­ty. The play­ers said they’d had two shootarounds be­fore the game, giv­ing them a chance to set­tle in.

On their first vis­it, Tauer said he en­cour­aged them to soak it in. “It’s a spe­cial night for these guys and they’ll nev­er for­get it,” he said.

Said Han­non: “We’re just ex­cit­ed to play, all of us; we love basket­ball.” His fam­i­ly has Vi­kings sea­son tick­ets, but he had nev­er been in the end zone be­fore, and he knew right where he was going when he first took to the field a day be­fore the game.

He sought out the spot where Vi­kings wide re­ceiv­er Stefon Diggs made the catch that needs no fur­ther de­scrip­tion for Min­ne­so­ta sports fans. He smiled as he re­called the mo­ment Thurs­day af­ter­noon: “Right when we walked in, I found where he caught it on the field and I stood there a little bit and looked around.”