PORTLAND, Maine — Mackenzie Holmes signed every autograph, posed for every photo. Only her postgame media and family obligations could whisk her away from reciprocating the support the 5,983 fans at Cross Insurance Arena showered upon her.

On the night that was hers, the 6-3 IU All-American found a way to give back, proof Holmes’ connection to her home state never severed, even as her profile rose to national-level recognition. 

“Mackenzie has so much pride in being from Maine and playing for Indiana,” her mother, Denise Payette-Holmes told IndyStar. “It’s all about who she is, not really the basketball player but the person who comes first.” 

On the same floor in which she won two Maine high school state titles for nearby Gorham, Holmes returned home Thursday night, leading the No. 17 Hoosiers to a 67-59 win over the University of Maine with a team-high 22 points before a sold out Portland crowd. Holmes grew up roughly seven miles west in Gorham. 

In her words “a full-circle moment.” 

“I was once that little girl looking up to the players ahead of me, and it means everything to be an example for those girls and show them what this kind of basketball looks like and this platform,” Holmes said. “They always say if you build it, they’ll come, and this is something we’ve really built with women’s basketball in general.” 

Maine has scheduled opponents with Mainers for home contests on campus, more than 100 miles north of Portland. Usually, those teams with Mainers rank similarly to the Black Bears.

Not Indiana. The country’s No. 17 team here is unprecedented territory. Maine will travel to Indiana for a game next season, but this only happened as a gesture toward Holmes. 

Mackenzie Holmes:A Bob Knight camp started her road to Indiana. Now, she gets her Maine homecoming.

“That kid is just a tremendous basketball player and it was great to play against her,” Maine coach Amy Vachon said. 

More than 100 eager fans lined up in the arena lobby 90 minutes before tip, 30 minutes before gates opened. Many fans in Holmes’ Indiana shirseys entered the arena once the gates opened. As much, if not more, Indiana red than UMaine blue. 

Mackenzie Holmes’ high school coach, Laughn Berthiaume, wears her Gorham jersey ahead of IU's visit to Portland to play Maine, Nov. 30, 2023.

Laughn Berthiaume, Holmes’ coach at Gorham High School, made his way to his front row seat as soon as the gates opened. Wearing Holmes’ home white Gorham jersey and an Indiana hat, Berthiaume, a geometry teacher, said the entire school was “fired up” all week.

Holmes’ jersey usually hangs in his classroom, as does other memorabilia from his tenure. Of all the moments they shared, including two state titles, one from her senior year stands out. Then a No. 5 seed, Gorham upset No. 4, undefeated No. 1 and No. 2 before falling with 0.3 seconds left. 

In that game, Holmes went down with an injury in the fourth quarter, came back and scored 16 straight points to keep them in it. 

“It was how she embraced her teammates,” Berthiaume said. “We had some very big wins here but also a very tough state championship game loss, and how she carried herself with her younger teammates was amazing.” 

The who’s who of the past decade of Maine high school hoops showed up, like Maddie Provost and Emily Esposito. 

Provost is a sophomore at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, roughly 90 minutes north of Portland. Sitting on the baseline in her 2023 Class A state championship jacket, the aspiring Division I guard knows Holmes because they played for the same AAU program, Maine Firecrackers, and Provost attending Indiana elite camp the past two summers.

“Mackenzie is a huge role model for me,” Provost said. “She’s so welcoming, even into her home atmosphere (at Indiana).” 

Esposito, two years ahead of Holmes at Gorham, teamed up with her on back-to-back state title teams. Esposito, who played collegiately at Villanova and Boston University, got to watch her longtime friend play a college game in person for the first time.

“From playing with her, I know how incredible she is,” Esposito said. “For her to be leading the way at a top team just shows how consistent she is. It’s fun to see her run out because it’s the same old Mackenzie, goofy but always ready to put on a show.” 

And it wasn’t just the fans who came in droves. According to Tyson McHatten, UMaine’s senior associate athletic director for external operations and communications, the program usually receives about 10 media credential requests for its home games. He handed out about 35 credentials for this one. Earlier in the day, the Portland Sea Dogs, Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, announced a Holmes bobblehead giveaway for a 2024 game. 

In a pregame media availability Wednesday, Indiana coach Teri Moren acknowledged it would “take an awful lot” for the program to lure Holmes out of her home state. Moren and Indiana sealed the deal by taking a trip to an open gym here. 

“It wasn’t really an evaluation, more just doing what we had to do in an effort to get seen by her,” Moren said. “We wanted to make an impression that she’d be coming into a family away from family.”

Mission accomplished. And actually, a part of her nuclear family was there. Older brother Cameron served as a practice player and manager during her first three years at IU. Now a graduate assistant at Illinois State, big brother Holmes made a surprise trip to Portland for the big game, joining countless friends and family members. 

“I’m just extremely grateful that we had this opportunity,” Holmes said. “It’s just incredible.” 

Indiana women’s basketball stats vs. Maine

Indiana 67, Maine 59

INDIANA (6-1): Holmes 9-11 4-4 22, Garzon 3-13 1-2 7, Moore-McNeil 2-6 2-2 7, Parrish 6-13 3-5 17, Scalia 3-11 1-2 10, Meister 0-0 0-0 0, Bargesser 1-1 0-0 2, Beaumont 1-3 0-0 2, Sandvik 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-58 11-15 67

MAINE (4-4): Smith 5-11 4-4 14, Bornemann 1-6 0-0 2, Rockwood 1-4 0-0 3, Simon 12-24 7-9 34, Talon 3-10 0-0 6, Dotsey 0-0 0-0 0, Christopher 0-0 0-0 0, Gallego 0-0 0-0 0, Hodgson 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-55 11-13 59

Indiana 14 15 16 22 — 67

Maine 16 21 11 11 — 59

3-Point Goals—Indiana 6-19 (Garzon 0-2, Moore-McNeil 1-2, Parrish 2-5, Scalia 3-8, Beaumont 0-2), Maine 4-23 (Bornemann 0-4, Rockwood 1-4, Simon 3-13, Talon 0-2). Assists_Indiana 21 (Moore-McNeil 6), Maine 10 (Smith 4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Indiana 36 (Parrish 10), Maine 35 (Smith 13). Total Fouls_Indiana 11, Maine 17. Technical Fouls_None. A_5,983.