St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino against the...

St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino against the Seton Hall at UBS Arena on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Rick Pitino has no regrets about the critique he delivered about his team Sunday night after St. John’s blew a 19-point first-half lead in a 68-62 Big East loss to Seton Hall at UBS Arena.

The Hall of Fame coach looked and sounded dispirited as he called coaching his first Red Storm team “the most unenjoyable experience of my lifetime.”

But he really put himself under the national microscope by questioning his players’ toughness and describing them as “unathletic.” A half-dozen players were mentioned by name along with their shortcomings.

His postgame remarks drew considerable attention and airtime Monday on WFAN radio and a variety of outlets. For example, after CBS Sports Network aired news conference excerpts, studio host Zach Aldridge said Pitino “clearly hates his team.” Pitino also was criticized as “ripping” his team.

“I truly wasn’t ripping anybody,” Pitino told Newsday on Monday. “I was pointing out exactly — in a monotone voice — why we lost . . . I am not always calm and certainly not when I rip someone . . . I was not ripping anybody.

“I sometimes want my players to hear my words and read my words. That was my intention [Sunday].”

And the players do hear the criticisms Pitino has leveled in news conferences throughout the season.

Earlier this season, Chris Ledlum was asked about how the coach’s words land with them and replied, “Coach Pitino knows what he’s talking about and sometimes you have to take the message — you have to take what is said and not how it is said.”

St. John’s (14-12, 6-9) went into Sunday’s contest having lost seven of nine and descended from what had been a solid position for making the NCAA Tournament to a situation in which beating Seton Hall (17-9, 10-5) had become essential.

Pitino said the Red Storm had a plan to keep the Pirates off the free-throw line — where they were making 82% in conference play — and also get to the free-throw line themselves.

The game plan was effective for a while. When the Red Storm led 38-19 with three minutes left in the first half, Seton Hall had taken four free throws. But in the final three minutes, the Pirates made six of seven from the line in a 10-3 run. In the second half, Seton Hall took 26 free throws to St. John’s four.

“I was very discouraged because [our] game plan was to not foul because they’re a great foul-shooting team — it was a point of emphasis,” Pitino said. “In the first half, we did an excellent job of that. And then in the second half, we fouled. And we’re beating ourselves by doing that.”

Some of his harshest-sounding words dealt with how the team — and a few named individuals — lack “lateral quickness.”

“I was asked the question ‘why do you blow second-half leads?’ And I can tell you sometimes it’s missed free throws at the end of the game and [opponents] make free throws,” Pitino said. “Sometimes it’s a turnover. Sometimes it’s bad shot selection that leads to run-outs. It’s not the same reason every time.

“But it’s the same reason every time of why you foul: You foul because you take a bad shot, you get caught in a bad situation defensively, and you are not overly quick laterally. So when you go to [defend] the basket, rather than beat them to the spot, you foul. That’s what I was trying to point out.”

Certainly, Pitino knows his players best and — theoretically — how best to motivate them. He said he has concerns about the propensity to foul causing problems Wednesday at Georgetown because the Hoyas’ top players are among the conference’s best at getting to the free-throw line.

“We have got to make sure we take great shots,” Pitino said. “And . . . we’ve got to stop fouling. The better shots we take, the more we’ll stop fouling because [scoring] will allow our defense to set up.”

Asked if anything he said Sunday night required clarification because it was misunderstood, Pitino didn’t think so, adding, “I’m fine with what I said.”

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