Cunningham, the inbounder for the final play of Texas’ star-crossed 2021-22 season and of coach Shaka Smart’s six-year tenure, stayed a baseline statue a bit longer. Off-court, teammate Courtney Ramey fell to all fours, brought down by the calamity that just hit the program like an anvil to the skull. Guards Andrew Jones and Jase Febres looked sick.

“It doesn’t feel real,” then-senior Matt Coleman would say not long after 14th-seeded Abilene Christian shocked third-seeded Texas in Indianapolis last March. “It just feels like a bad dream. Haven’t woke up yet.’

It’s been a year since Abilene Christian sashayed out of Lucas Oil Stadium in glass slippers. And at Texas, so much has changed.

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Not long after the loss, Smart wound up moving back to his home state of Wisconsin to coach Marquette. Forwards Kai Jones (Charlotte Hornets), Greg Brown (Portland Trail Blazers) and Jericho Sims (New York Knicks) moved onto the NBA. Coleman and a slew of others either graduated or transferred.

By the time Texas introduced Chris Beard as the program’s new head coach last April 1, only one player was on the roster: Cunningham.

Eventually, Beard and his new staff swayed Febres, Jones and Ramey to come back for a redemptive run. Those three plus Cunningham would serve as the nucleus of a rebooted program as Beard and his staff submerged themselves into the NCAA transfer portal to fill out the team with all-conference transfers like Minnesota guard Marcus Carr, Utah forward Timmy Allen and UMass big Tre Mitchell. (Mitchell left the team in February, citing personal reasons).

But this Texas season, like so many recent others, has been another Rorschach test.

Some see a team that ranked No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll, beat No. 8 Kansas and No. 18 Tennessee and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region as an unmitigated success. Others see a ballyhooed group of veterans, transfers and high-paid coaches that failed to live up to stratospheric preseason expectations as the AP’s No. 5 team and froze too often with the game on the line as a disappointment destined for another March heartbreak.

For their part, the Longhorns (21-11) don’t particularly care what the outside world thinks they’re capable of. What matters is they’re back in the NCAA Tournament, preparing for Friday’s first-round game against 11th-seeded Virginia Tech in Milwaukee.

A second chance for four Longhorns after last year’s shocking loss to Abilene Christian

And for the four returning Longhorns, this represents one last shot at an image makeover, one more chance to leave a legacy for a program that hasn’t won in the Big Dance since 2014.

“I’ve watched that game countless times,” Febres said Monday of last year’s loss to Abilene Christian. “And I get sicker every time I watch it, like a lot sicker.

“But I have three guys that came back with me that I've been through multiple wars with and been through some heartbreaks, like last year. So, we just want to come out and finally take this team to get a dub and leave a legacy here that’ll be one to smile about.

It took Ramey, who joined the Longhorns’ 1,000-point club earlier this season, longer to rewatch the carnage.

“Took a long time for me to watch the game, just after how everything went down,” Ramey said, wincing for half a second while reliving the memory “Took a long time for me to watch basketball again. It was like three weeks before I watched another game.

“But I think a lot of people still talk about that game. They try to label our team as ‘the team that lost in the first round.’ So that’s going to be fuel to our fire.”

Ramey, Febres, Jones and Cunningham have all played impactful roles for Texas this year.

Ramey’s the team’s best perimeter defender, as he’s proved in twice shutting down Kansas star and Big 12 player of the Ochai Agbaji. Jones remains as inspiring as ever after beating leukemia, at one point stringing together three straight 20-point games in mid-February. Febres is ever-ready as a 3-and-D plug-in off the bench. And Cunningham’s a ball of anarchy, a pesky defender and willing charge-taker with a flair for getting under the opponent’s skin.

Together, they’ll try to bring Texas into the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2008. And maybe change some minds along the way.

“That’s beautiful thing about March: You're kind of able to switch people's perspectives really fast, even though you believed all along what you guys could do,” Febres said. “So that's what we want to do. We want to be on a banner. We want to say, ‘I won an NCAA tournament game, I got to the Sweet Sixteen.’ But the main thing for us is, we understand right now it’s a two-team tournament, it’s us and Virginia Tech. We have to go out there, win this game and see what happens on the other side.”