Katy, TX (Sports Network) - Mike James posted a game-high 26 points to go with nine rebounds as Lamar booked its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2000 with a 70-49 decision over McNeese State in the Southland final.
Devon Lamb added 12 points and Osas Ebomwonyi totaled nine points and nine boards for the Cardinals (23-11),
"I told these guys right at my press conference that the reason I took (the job) was because of them," said Lamar head coach Pat Knight, who turned around a program that had gone 11-30 in conference play the previous three seasons. "I thought we could win right away."
Patrick Richard scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds for the Cowboys (17-15), who gained the final by knocking off top seed Texas- Arlington on Friday.
Dontae Cannon had 13 points in a losing cause.
A 19-2 run spread out over eight minutes later in the first half gave Lamar control of the contest for good.
Down 13-10, Anthony Miles started the run with a deuce, Lamb hit two from the line, and after an Adrian Fields layup accounted for McNeese's lone answer, the Cardinals ripped off 15 in a row -- six alone by James -- then Stan Brown capped the burst on his layup with 3:32 left for a 29-15 game.
Lamar led 33-21 at the break.
"It changed the complexity," said McNeese head coach Dave Simmons. "To win a game like this, you have to get an inside presence, and we couldn't get to the foul line."
Richard's free throw got the Cowboys within 35-33 early in the second half, but James scored four in a row and Lamar righted itself on a 17-6 run which left it ahead 52-39 with 7 1/2 minutes left on a James lay-in.
The Cardinals kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the game.
Cannon totaled five points and Richard four as McNeese State led 13-8 in the early stages.
Lamar has taken a 50-42 edge in the all-time series and won two of three this season from McNeese State...McNeese hasn't won the league playoff title since 2002 but lost to UTA in last year's championship...Saturday's game marked the first time both schools have met in the Southland tourney final.
03/11 01:24:37 ET