CHATHAM, N.J. – The Chatham girls basketball team led the first 31 minutes of their game against Hunterdon Central on Friday in the opening game of the Cougar Classic.

However, after falling behind by two with 1:03 to play in regulation, the Cougars could not must a late comeback, falling to the Red Devils, 43-39.

“Hunterdon Central is a good team,” Chatham head coach Joe Gaba said. “We knew there size was going to be a problem…[Chatham] is a relatively new team. We only return one returning starter. We have to learn from it.”

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The Cougars controlled the tempo in the first half, coming away with multiple fast-break points of steals at midcourt. Coupled with the strong shooting from guard Cassandra Falone, Chatham led by as many eight points in the opening two periods.

Falone hit a pair of three pointers in the half, which opened up the Cougars inside game.

“She’s only a sophomore, so she’s going to have her ups and downs,” Gaba said. “She played fantastic in the first half.”

She led the team with 15 points in the game.

After halftime, Hunterdon Central’s lengthy zone defensive play came to life. The Red Devils allowed only three baskets in the final 16 minutes, allowing them to fight back from a seven-point deficit.

In the fourth quarter, trailing by four points, Hunterdon Central hit six of their final 10 free throws, as well as two layups to take a four point they didn’t relinquish.

“They came out in the second half, with their length playing 2-3 zone, we weren’t able to get many clean looks at the basket,” Gaba said. “We had many one-and-done shots on offense. That was the difference in the game, them being able to defend in the 2-3 and us not being able to make our shots.”

The Cougars have a quick turnaround following the loss. They host Columbia on Saturday at 6 p.m.