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SF teenager plays like Klay Thompson, hits 11 threes

Lincoln guard Justin Aquino (4) tries to drive past University guard Gus Fried (5) during the fourth quarter of a non-league basketball game in San Francisco, Calif. on Dec. 17, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

The ball had to be in Justin Aquino’s hands.

Even if he hadn’t made game-winning shots as a freshman, it had to be him.

Even if he hadn’t hit a buzzer-beater to take an eventual state champion to overtime nine months ago, it had to be him.

Aquino simply found a way to get the ball in the hoop again and again on Saturday night, culminating in his improbable off-balance bank of a 3-pointer with a second remaining in overtime to lift his Lincoln Mustangs past University, 76-75, in the final game of the 3rd Rick Boyle Classic.

It was Aquino’s 11th 3-pointer of the night, and it gave him 42 points.

For some perspective, Klay Thompson holds the NBA record with 14 3-pointers in a game, and he had an extra 12 minutes to do it.

“When he had the ball in his hands, I wasn’t sweating,” head coach Carl Jacobs said of Aquino. “If he’s the last person with the ball in his hands, you can forget it.”

Aquino stole the show from the opening tip-off, which was delayed 30 minutes after a junior varsity game went to double overtime. He hit four threes in the first quarter and six in the first half to send the Mustangs into the locker room with a 10-point lead.

The visiting Red Devils didn’t fold, though. University (7-2) took the lead for the first time since the first two minutes with 7:28 remaining in regulation on Luke Bradley’s sixth 3-pointer of the night and led by four after a technical foul and Cole Boake free throw.

“We’ve got nine seniors,” Jacobs said of his team’s composure. “We’ve been in the trenches before.”

Lincoln (5-1) countered with a 7-2 run, taking a 60-59 lead on a Nikita Kartsev three. Kartsev finished with nine points and eight rebounds, all while limiting University star Joey Kennedy to a single point.

Lincoln forward Nikita Kartsev (24) watches University guard Gus Parsons (23) prepare for a free throw. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

“Nikita was the player of the game,” Jacobs said. “He got every rebound. Justin did a good job and hit the last shot, but we don’t get to that point without Nikita.”

Kennedy still managed to rack up eight rebounds and five assists, all while playing on an ankle that he had injured in the first quarter on Friday night against Mission. To make matters worse, Kennedy picked up his third and fourth fouls in a two-minute span in the third quarter on a pair of blocks that he, his teammates and every University fan thought were clean.

'It was us against the world tonight'

“He was playing more than Lincoln,” Red Devils head coach Randy Bessolo said. “It was us against the world tonight.”

The lead changed hands twice more in the final three minutes of regulation, and University tied the game at 66 on a Boake and-1 with 30.2 seconds left. The Devils had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation after a Jeremyah Aquino attempt in the lane rimmed out with 12.1 on the clock, but Gus Fried was called for a travel with 3.5 left. Will Perkins blocked a half-court heave to send the game to overtime.

Three Mustangs fouled out in overtime, and Boake made two free throws with 29.2 left to put his team up 75-73. The visitors thought they had received possession when a travel was called against Lincoln with 19.5 to go, but the referees conferred and ultimately decided an inadvertent whistle had been blown before the travel was called.

“We went to the huddle preparing for our inbound play, and when we came out, they changed the call,” Bessolo said. “I don’t know why they changed the call, and I don’t know what influenced it. Highly unusual.”

Gus Parsons rebounded a Lincoln miss with 7.8 left, but two Mustangs quickly swarmed him, and the referees called a jump ball. The possession arrow stayed with Lincoln, and with the final shot of the night, Justin both won the game and cemented the Lincoln-University rivalry as one of San Francisco’s best. The teams have now met four times since the start of the 2019-20 season, all won by the Mustangs.

'This is a city battle'

“This is a city battle,” Bessolo said. “Carl’s a great coach, and the Aquinos have been our kryptonite. We like to play fast, tough and prepared, and they’ve been the answer to what we do.”

Justin connected four times from beyond the arc in the first quarter alone, starting with a shot from NBA range less than 90 seconds into the game. Lincoln held an early 16-4 lead and went up 19-10 after he closed the quarter with his fourth triple. His four-point play early in the second quarter made it 25-12, and the Mustangs led by as much as 14 before a Parsons three sent the Devils into the half down 39-29.

Lincoln guard Justin Aquino (4) shoots a 3-pointer during the first half of a non-league basketball game against University. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Justin hit 3-pointers seven and eight after University had scored the first four points of the second half, and two Kartsev free throws gave the hosts a 47-34 advantage before a 10-1 University run that included Bradley’s fourth and fifth 3-pointers.

Bradley scored 24 on the night. Boake led the visitors with 28, including 15 in the fourth quarter. He made 13 of his 18 free throws.

The third quarter made it seem like Lincoln’s early run had created enough separation, as the Mustangs managed to answer every University push. Justin scored one of his three two-pointers to end the 10-1 Devils run, and twin brother Jeremyah scored the last points of the quarter to send his team into the fourth with a 52-46 lead.

University finally broke through in the fourth. Boake started the final frame of regulation with an and-1, and after he missed the free throw, Perkins grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to him for a three, cutting the lead to a single point.

University guard Will Perkins (15) tries to drive past Lincoln guard Ceyaan Lutt (3) during the second quarter of a non-league basketball game. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Perkins finished with 10 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and five assists. While Bessolo typically goes deep into the bench, just eight players saw the court for the Devils on Saturday night, and the starting lineup of Boake, Kennedy, Perkins, Parsons and Bradley stayed on the floor for the bulk of the night, with Fried taking Kennedy’s place after the Claremont-McKenna commit got into foul trouble.

A Timothy Wong free throw briefly gave Lincoln a two-point lead before Bradley’s sixth and final trifecta. Kennedy was called for his fifth foul on a rebound with 4:04 left, and Kartsev made both free throws at the other end. University took a 63-62 lead on a Boake drive with 2:53 to play, and Jeremyah put the Mustangs back ahead on the last of his 18 points with 2:04 left. Justin’s drive with 43.6 remaining made it 66-63.

There’s a chance the two teams meet again in less than two weeks at the Bambauer Classic, hosted by Marin Catholic. The teams are on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning they’d need to mimic each other’s results on the first three days in order to square off on Dec. 29.

“I’d love to see ‘em on a neutral floor. Playing at Lincoln, you’re playing more than just Lincoln,” Bessolo remarked. “We had a lot of things that we couldn’t control go against us.”