DAWSONVILLE — Jake Craft was too hot to handle on Monday.
The senior guard exploded for 30 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, and Joakeim Celestin poured in 17, all in the second half, to rally the Dawson County (12-6, 4-2 Region 7-3A) past Rockdale, 70-62, in the make-up game of the Tiger tournament championship over the holidays. It was part of a four-game day at the Ford Phillips Center.
"If he's not the best shooter in the state, he's certainly one of the top two or three," coach Todd Cottrell said about Craft. "When he gets going, he's pure. He's very confident, but he makes the right play and doesn't take many bad ones. He's trying to improve on the defensive end and he handled it well. He also attacked early, which gave him some space late."
But Cottrell had to ring the fire alarm in the locker room at half time. The Tigers fell behind after a back and forth opening period that saw four lead changes and three ties, ending 15-15. Max Tierney hit the tying bucket with five seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The second quarter, however, was a bit different, with Rockdale opened on a 9-2 run led by Mekhi Witter, Johnny Collins and Khayri Dunn grabbing a 24-17 with 5:30 remaining in the half. Dawson cut down to 24-20 off a Jackson Binkley 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs pushed it back up 30-23 by the half.
And it didn't get any better, offensively, for the Tigers for the opening four minutes of the second half, but the defense showed up. The Tigers didn't score until the 3:51 mark and held Rockdale to just one point. Craft ignited the fire and the flurry of points with a 3-pointer from the wing. That basket sent the Tigers on a 15-14 run to end the quarter up 38-30, mainly thanks to baskets from Celestin and Craft in the final 1:30.
"Shots started going in and I thought we got some good looks early in the third quarter, they just weren't going in," Cottrell said. "We saw one go in midway through and it just kind of opened the flood gates. Jake got hot and we found him. It just kind of gave us a pad."
Craft continued his pinpoint shooting with back-to-back 3-pointers to open the fourth, extending Dawson's run to 21-4. Tierney gave the Tigers their largest lead of the game, 51-39, with 5:03 to go on a bucket in the post, and 1:30 later, Craft's 3-pointer gave the Tigers a 56-43.
Craft, Tierney scored back to back buckets, a 3-point and 2-point, and Celestin put an exclamation point on the run with a steal and breakaway dunk that gave the Tigers their largest lead, 62-42.
Rockdale, however, gave it one last run late, closing the game, 70-62, late in the game.
It was a win that helped give the Tigers some momentum as they hit the backend of the Region 7-3A schedule, starting with Lumpkin at home on Tuesday.
"They're huge. Any region game is big, especially on your home court," Cottrell said. "So, we need to play well tomorrow. We don't have very many left at home, so we're going to need to play strong on the road to put ourselves in a good position."