The Southeastern Conference matchup between North Carolina and South Carolina (above), which kicked off at 6 p.m. ET but featured a lengthy weather delay in the fourth quarter, averaged 3.65 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
And a second SEC contest, in which Ole Miss held off Vanderbilt in a high-scoring affair, drew 2.74 million viewers.
Combined, ESPN had its second most-watched opening night Thursday doubleheader (3.14 million) since 1998. The only night to fare better was a 2009 Thursday doubleheader featuring South Carolina against N.C. State and Oregon at Boise State (3.57 million).
Birmingham was the highest-rated metered market for ESPN on Thursday, averaging a 12.8 rating for both games. Greenville, S.C. was a close second (12.6) followed by Nashville (8.9), Memphis (8.1), Knoxville (7.0), Raleigh-Durham (5.8), Charlotte (5.7), Atlanta (5.4), Greensboro (4.8) and Jacksonville (4.1).