Can the University of Akron men’s basketball team shake off a heartbreaking 111-106 double-overtime loss and get their first road win Tuesday night against Miami?

That’s the question that occupies the thoughts of Zips coach John Groce.

For those who didn’t watch, a confluence of events undermined what should have been a victory for the Zips over Ball State in Muncie, Ind., on Saturday.

“It’s challenging, it’s really challenging mentally. I’ve talked to them about that,” Groce said of his players. “You have to be mentally tough. This deal isn’t for the meek and the timid. This league has never been that way.”

It’s especially challenging for the Zips, who are without big men Emmanuel Olojakpoke and Jaden Sayles. That is forcing them to play with a smaller lineup, which has yielded offensive dividends but also provided defensive struggles.

Groce won’t let his players forget that their defensive effort in the second half — when they allowed Ball State to shoot 55 percent from the floor — didn’t exactly help.

“Obviously we have guys who are playing heavy minutes, but I don’t give them that excuse,” Groce said. “... If we can play defense effectively in the first half, there’s no reason we can’t play effectively in the second half.”

However, it’s not wrong to look at the 42 free throws the Cardinals received and wonder what happened. They connected on 33 of those, as three Zips players fouled out of the game, and 15 of them came during the two overtime periods.

The Zips attempted 21 free throws and made 19.

“We have to do a better job of playing hard without fouling,” Groce said. “There are certainly some during the game that we have to be able to control better.”

Groce gave the Cardinals credit for going inside to draw fouls, knowing they possessed a height advantage.

“That put them in a position to shoot more free throws than we did,” he said, “but obviously the disparity [in attempts] was pretty large.”

No foul proved more pivotal than the one that cost the Zips their point guard and helped Ball State force overtime. With 10 seconds left in regulation, officials hit Malcolm Duvivier with a controversial foul that sent the Cardinals’ Tayler Persons to the line with the Zips holding an 81-79 lead.

Persons coolly made both free throws to tie the score and, with one second left, forward Daniel Utomi’s 3-point attempt fell short to put the game in overtime.

“Obviously it’s a little tough to swallow because you want them to make a shot or make a play to win the game,” Groce said. “... I didn’t think, watching the clip, there was much there.”

Eruption

Even in defeat, it was hard to overlook the offensive explosion of Zips guard Jimond Ivey, who scored a school-record 48 points and would have reached 50 had he not missed a dunk.

Ivey broke Joe Jakubick’s record of 47 points, set on Feb. 5, 1983, against Murray State. For his efforts, Ivey was named MAC East Division player of the week.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.