Caird’s career night pushes Tigers past Ellsworth

Marshalltown Community College sophomore Chris Caird wanted to talk more about his team’s win and less about his career night Wednesday.

Even though the latter went hand-in-hand with the victory over Ellsworth Community College.

Caird had it going offensively, connecting on 7-of-10 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 35 points as the NJCAA Division I No. 25-ranked Tigers pushed aside a late Panther rally during an 81-67 victory at the Student Activity Center.

“We blew a lead against these guys the last time we played them, so it was big that we were able to get the win tonight,” Caird said. “Every shot felt in rhythm. It just felt good.”

Ellsworth (9-6) handed the Tigers their first loss earlier this season after rallying from a 15-point halftime deficit.

The Tigers led by 21 at the break this time around and finished off the win despite another rally from the Panthers.

“We played hard and we did what we had to do,” MCC coach Brynjar Brynjarsson said. “Their press rattled us in the second half. Losing Rahiem (Holloway) hurt, but we have to be ready to play when that happens.”

Holloway, the team’s starting point guard, went down early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury. He did not return and Brynjarsson did not have any further information after the game.

Other players stepped up in Holloway’s absence, but nobody impacted the game like Caird. The sharpshooter from England went 4-for-4 from long range in the first half and made his first five triples in the game.

“Shooters make plays and he did a nice job tonight,” Brynjarsson said.

Caird had originally planned to play at MCC for one season after signing a Division I scholarship with Santa Clara. But an injured knee sent that plan in a tail spin. After 13 months of rehabilitation, Caird is back with the Tigers and fully healthy.

“I am back to 100 percent and I think it is starting to show,” he said.

Brynjarsson added, “Santa Clara decided to take it back after he blew out his knee, which in my opinion is unethical. He has been through a lot but is playing well for us right now.”

Caird scored eight of the team’s first 12 points Wednesday as the Tigers built a 12-4 lead early on. Back-to-back buckets by Matej Delinac pushed the lead to 17-6 and then a Caird slam made it 20-7.

The Panthers did not score their 10th point until the 7:15 mark of the first half. It was 30-10 after Caird banged home another triple and his fourth 3 of the half made it 39-17. The Tigers went into the locker room up 44-23.

“Our defense is what sets up our offense,” Brynjarsson said. “The more easy looks we get on offense, the better we’ll be. The less set plays we run, the better off we are.”

Caird continued his hot shooting in the second half. He scored 10 of the Tigers’ first 15 points in the second stanza to give his team a 32-point advantage.

Ellsworth did not go away quietly though. The Panthers slowly clawed their way back into the game. A 25-5 run trimmed the lead to 12 and they got as close as 10 following a three-point play by Malcolm Canada.

The run was put to rest by Caird as he drilled a 3 and got fouled with 4:55 to play. Cameron Robinson then converted a layup, Lamont Adair buried two freebies and Caird drained another 3 to put the game away.

“I think the biggest part of the second half was when Lamont hit both of those free throws when we were up 12,” Brynjarsson said. “He sometimes struggles from the line but he stepped up and drilled them for us. That was an important play for us.”