The Cardinals captured the Southland Conference tourney title for the first time in 12 years and in so doing gave the son of coaching legend Bob Knight a chance to step into the national spotlight.
Pat Knight succeeded his father as coach at Texas Tech, but was released after four seasons. He is in his first year at Lamar and this will be his first trip to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach.
Lamar led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but McNeese cut its deficit to four with 14:15 left in the game and missed two chances to get closer.
James then hit a 3-pointer and soon followed with a layup that pushed Lamar's lead to 35-44 with 11:49 remaining.
James had 26 points to lead the Cardinals, who shot 51 percent from the field. Lamar entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and bumped off second-seeded S.F. Austin in the semifinals. The Cardinals will take a 23-11 record into the NCAA Tournament.
McNeese (17-15), which eliminated regular-season champ Texas-Arlington in the semifinals, was led by Patrick Richard with 16 points.